If Congress is only notified of and the American public is only able to access partial data on U.S. arms sales, how can policymakers and the general public even begin to assess their impacts? Can partial transparency really be called transparency at all?
When innocents are killed by American bombs dropped from American-made planes that are kept in the air by American contractors, Yemeni civilians understandably associate the U.S with the carnage being imposed on them from above.
When countries who are party to a conflict receive U.S. arms, and the U.S. willingly approves those sales, it also tacitly approves the role of that country in conflict, even countries that violate human rights and bring about large numbers of civilian casualties.
Tomorrow marks the one-hundredth day of the Biden presidency, and there has been a flood of assessments of the administration’s performance thus far. Nowhere is such an assessment more urgent than on foreign policy.
If there’s one thing we can learn from the Trump administration’s final-year arms sales extravaganza, it’s that we can’t expect administrations to abide by norms that aren’t set into law. We need stronger regulatory frameworks, particularly on transparency. This is critical to ensuring the international community can continue to monitor foreign arms sales, that arms sales aren’t at odds with diplomatic priorities, and that the United States gets closer to a more responsible arms sales policy.
At a time when Biden has called for an American renewal, ending arms transfers to repressive regimes would be a welcome first step in ensuring that the U.S. role in the world reflects the values and commitments it seeks to promote at home.