Arms sales are confusing. Every once in a while a news story will break about a certain weapons sale from the United States to some other country across the globe that is worth millions, or even billions of dollars. And as Americans, we virtually have no say in where the bombs that say "MADE IN THE USA" go. By the time we hear about a sale, the export licenses are already approved and Boeing factories are churning out weapons we've never even heard of. We hope these resources can provide some insight about the arms trade. It will be updated with more resources regularly.
How the U.S. Sells A Bomb
Even for people who consider themselves well informed about the military-industrial complex find themselves getting lost in the web of procedure and timing of weapons sales. There is a gross lack of transparency and information made available to the American peoples. Generally, here's how arms sales work:
There is a period of negotiation that takes place between a country that wants to buy weapons and either the U.S. government or a private company like Boeing or Lockheed Martin. After a deal is reached, the State Department is required by the Arms Export Control Act to notify Congress (if the amount of the offer is over the threshold for notification). After the notification is received by Congress, they have 15 or 30 days to introduce and pass a Resolution of Joint Disapproval to block the issuance of the export license. The amount of days depends on how close the United States is with the country buying the weapons.
For Israel, NATO countries, and a few others, Congress has 15 days to block the sale from going through. Anyone familiar with Congress's arduous way of doing things may realize that 15 days is not really enough time to carefully consider whether selling millions/billions of dollars in weapons is in the political interest of the United States.
What does this time frame mean for advocates against arms sales? It means that they have a tiny window of opportunity to reach out to members of Congress.
Also, only arms sales over a certain threshold have to be reported to Congress. Deals totaling up to several billion dollars go through every year and the general public doesn't find out about most of them until after they have gone through. The arms trade thrives under a lack of transparency.
Important Laws About Weapons Sales
Arms Export Control Act (AECA)- This is the law that requires the President to notify Congress about a new arms sale within 30 days before the sale goes through. This act also includes a provision that lets the President waive that notice requirement if he deems it to be an “emergency”. Generally, this law gives a lot of power to the President, and gives Congress a very passive role in arms sales.
Foreign Assistance Act- This law is about aid (military and non-military) the U.S. gives to other countries. For the purpose of opposing weapons sales, this law can be useful to invoke. Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act says that weapons sold by the United States cannot be used for human rights violations.
Read & Watch List
Weapons Sales 101 a CODEPINK webinar with arms expert Jeff Abramson
Shadow World, a documentary about the global arms trade
The Shadow World, book by Andrew Feinstein
“Arms Sales: What We Know About Bombs Being Dropped in Our Name” an article by CODEPINK’s Danaka Katovich
Forum on the Arms Trade Congressional Arms Trade Measures, use their resource page to stay up to date on new arms trade bills in Congress
Explore arms sales data at the Center for International Policy's arms sales page.
**Stay tuned in to the Call to Disarm campaign to learn more about arms sales and arms policy through our webinar series**
Arms Trade Fact Sheet