US President Donald Trump speaks to the media after the Congressional Republican Leadership retreat at Camp David, Maryland, US, January 6, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new “Buy American” plan that calls for US military attaches and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry, going beyond the assistance they currently provide, US officials said.
President Donald Trump as early as February is expected to announce a “whole of government” effort to ease export rules on purchases by foreign countries of US-made military equipment, from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, according to people familiar with the plan.
Trump is seeking to fulfill a 2016 election campaign promise to create jobs in the United States by selling more goods and services abroad to bring down the US trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.
The administration is also under pressure from US defense contractors facing growing competition from foreign rivals such as China and Russia. But any loosening of the restrictions on weapons sales would be in defiance of human rights and arms control advocates who said there was too great a risk of fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia or arms being diverted to be used in terrorist attacks.
Besides greater use of a network of military and commercial attaches already stationed at US embassies in foreign capitals, senior officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said another thrust of the plan will be to set in motion a realignment of the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR). It is a central policy governing arms exports since 1976 and has not been fully revamped in more than three decades.
This expanded government effort on behalf of American arms makers, together with looser restrictions on weapons exports and more favorable treatment of sales to non-NATO allies and partners, could bring additional billions of dollars in deals and more jobs, a senior US official said, without providing specifics.
The strategy of having the Pentagon and the US State Department take a more active role in securing foreign arms deals could especially benefit major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co.
“We want to see those guys, the commercial and military attaches, unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters,” said the senior administration official, who is close to the internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A State Department official, asked to confirm details of the coming new policy, said the revamped approach “gives our partners a greater capacity to help share the burden of international security, benefits the defense industrial base and will provide more good jobs for American workers.”
The White House and Pentagon declined official comment.
Defense industry officials and lobbyists have privately welcomed what they expect will be a more sales-friendly approach.
It is unclear how deeply the diplomats and military officers overseas will delve into dealmaking and what guidelines will be established, said officials in the administration.
Trump, a Republican, has the legal authority to direct government embassy “security assistance officers,” both military personnel and civilians, to do more to help drive arms sales.
Administration officials see this group, which already has duties such as managing military aid overseas and providing information to foreign governments for buying US arms, as underutilized by previous presidents.