AIA calls for national security cooperation strategy to guide arms sales decisions

By Justin Doubleday / June 1, 2018 at 5:30 AM

The Aerospace Industries Association has recommended the Trump administration develop a national security cooperation strategy to prioritize regions and capabilities where arms sales could further U.S. interests.

The recommendation is part of AIA's response to the Trump administration's new conventional arms transfer policy, which calls for increasing U.S. arms sales abroad and taking into account the effect deals could have on American jobs. In a May 29 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, AIA officials highlighted several of their recommendations to the administration. 

"Our industry is competing against our adversaries in a global defense marketplace where every export opportunity is a zero-sum, time-sensitive competition with an enduring impact on American influence, security and our defense industrial base," the letter states. "AIA and our member companies believe the ultimate key to the success of U.S. security cooperation is to increase the speed of review, approval and advocacy for defense exports that advance America's foreign policy, national and economic security interests."

Eric Fanning, AIA's chief executive and a former Army secretary who served in the Obama administration, said the lengthy approval process for arms sales frustrated him during his time in government. He said the process isn't transparent and gives multiple entities the opportunity for "pocket vetoes" throughout the consideration of a weapon sale to a foreign nation.

"We're not advocating for getting to 'yes' faster," Fanning told reporters May 30 at AIA's headquarters in Arlington, VA. "We're advocating to get to the right answer faster, whether it's a 'yes' or a 'no.'"

Fanning said the strategy should be derived from Trump's National Security Strategy and lay out a guiding framework for security cooperation. "What capabilities do we want to beef up in a coalition way?" he added.

The strategy could lay out how bolstering the inventories of allies and partners could improve the U.S. military's capability, according to Fanning. The document could be organized by regions and capabilities, he said, offering up the need for airlift in Africa as an example.

But what if a foreign government wants something different than what the United States believes it should buy?

"The strategy is not going to result in something that causes all governments to react immediately to what it is we say we want," Fanning said. "But if we can paint the picture of how them increasing certain capabilities does help them because it helps the broader effort, I think it helps us make our case."

Additionally, AIA is recommending the administration make one single entity responsible for "emphasizing, tracking and expediting the review of approval of agreements" for arms sales, according to the summary recommendations sent to Pompeo. AIA officials say the current process is too fragmented, with no single organization or official in charge, and features multiple players, including the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the State Department and the Commerce Department.

"It could be a task force, it could be an office, it could be a person, but it's an accountability mechanism to make sure that we're driving forward against what the priorities are in the national security cooperation strategy," Fanning said.

The bid to streamline and ultimately increase weapon sales comes after the government posted $41.9 billion in potential arms sales in fiscal year 2017. AIA officials did not say where the United States has lost out on potential sales because of the problems they describe in their recommendations or how much they believe arms sales could be increased overall.

AIA Vice President for International Affairs Remy Nathan said the association's detailed list of recommendations were sent to the White House two weeks ago. The administration's 60-day comment period for the new arms transfer policy ends June 18.