A report released Monday warns of the implications of a pending Trump administration plan that would ease regulations on weapons exports.
The Institute for Science and International Security released the report, which says the regulatory shift “could contribute to the proliferation of U.S. firearms worldwide to nefarious countries and to terrorists.”
Currently, the international sale of three categories of weapons are controlled by the State Department. But the Trump administration is planning to shift oversight of the weapons, including firearms, assault weapons, combat shotguns, and ammunition and ordnance to the more relaxed Commerce Department.
“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” a senior administration official told Reuters earlier this month. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.”
Industry experts agree. Lawrence Keane, the senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation said the rule change could boost export sales by as much as 20 percent annually. But in the report released Monday, policy researchers say “the potential risks to U.S. national security are dire” if the regulatory shift is finalized.
They say the move to Commerce Department oversight could mean the weapons would be eligible for a licensing exemption under the Strategic Trade Authorization – an Obama era initiative meant to loosen export restrictions.
“The Strategic Trade Authorization could be exploited by front companies or other illicit procurement efforts for a long duration before U.S. export control or enforcement agencies would catch on, allowing proliferators or terrorists to traffic U.S guns,” wrote researchers Andrea Stricker and David Albright.
Stricker and Albright wrote that the State Department weighs transfers based on political and national security considerations, whereas the Commerce Department is more concerned with promoting exports.
The researchers recommend that the Trump administration review the transfers and prevent the weapons from becoming eligible for a license exemption under the Strategic Trade Authorization. If Trump’s team doesn’t do that, the researchers say the weapons exports should remain under the purview of the State Department.
“The deadliest weapons must be kept out of the hands of U.S. adversaries as a foremost priority over the goal of increasing exports of such items,” wrote Stricker and Albright. “The potential downsides are not worth the apparent benefits.”
The regulatory changes could become public this fall, and after a period of public comment, could be implemented early next year.
“The NSC is working through the interagency process with the State Department and the Department of Commerce to ensure that U.S. industries have every advantage in the global marketplace, while at the same time ensuring the responsible export of arms,” said an official with the White House National Security Council earlier this month.