The latest challenge to US President Donald Trump over arms sales to Saudi Arabia has come from the Republican-majority Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which approved legislation yesterday that will make it more difficult for the administration to avoid a congressional review of such deals.
Underscoring the anger of US lawmakers, who are frustrated by Trump’s attempt to circumvent members of Congress to approve an $8 billion arms deal with the Saudis and the UAE by declaring an emergency over Iran, Senators moved to back legislation to avoid a similar scenario in the future. The bill was approved as the “Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act”. It is said to be an attempt to restrict the circumstances under which the existing emergency authority provided in the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) can be used to waive the requirement for Congressional review — and possible disapproval — before export licences and authorisations can be issued by the State Department.
Yesterday’s legislation follows the approval of 22 separate joint resolutions adopted by the full Senate last week. The disapproval resolution, however, is said to have failed in garnering sufficient support to overcome Trump’s promised veto, which can only be knocked down by a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House. The US House of Representatives will also be voting next month on US arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
Lawmakers, however, pledged not to let the issue go. Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s top Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill, insisted that, “The emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act should be used only for real emergencies and as rare exceptions for our closest allies for whom we can vouch.”
In what seems to be a snub to the Gulf States, the SAFE Act restricts the ability to declare an emergency for the sale of arms to America’s closest allies, which are cited as security treaty allies and security partner countries, essentially NATO countries plus Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand (“NATO+5”).
Furthermore, an emergency could only be declared in response to a physical threat and if 75 per cent of the weapons are available for delivery within two months. This is not the case with the Gulf States, as much of the equipment earmarked for Saudi Arabia and the UAE will take years to be delivered, suggesting very clearly that Trump’s use of emergency powers is far from genuine.