The US State Department has proposed changes to partnership states of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) with respect to its implications to UAVs, said Laura Cressey, US State Department Deputy Director for Regional Security and Arms Transfer, at an event at CSIS on Wednesday.
MTCR, which was designed to prevent the proliferation of missiles, “never took into account the role that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) now play in both the military and commercial realms,” said Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Through MTCR, the US and the other partnership states are unable to export category 1 large UAVs, defined as those able to carry over 500kg for more than 300km.
A RAND report released earlier this summer found that China is aiding the “accelerating” proliferation of category 1 large UAVs, in the absence of the US and other MTCR-signatories.
Overall, RAND found that the export controls on UASs from the MTCR negatively impact the US, in terms of security, economic, and political interests.
According to Cressey, the US is looking to “reinvigorate the MTCR with respect to UAVs and have proposed something to our partners that we are working to try and gain acceptance that we hope will open up some market space for our producers of UASs here in the United States,” she said at the CSIS event on US Arms Transfers. “But that’s something that we’re working towards this fall, so hope to have more later.”
“The UAS export market alone is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion a year within the next decade. Those are the stakes we’re competing for,” said Alex Gray, Special Assistant to the President for the Defense Industrial Base. “Economic security is national security.”
The discussion on MTCR reform was a small part as part of a larger discussion about the administration’s new Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy and the “whole of government” approach to “expand opportunities for American industry” and “to build capabilities for our partners.”
“What the initiative makes clear is that under this administration, there will be no more active advocate for US sales than the US government itself,” Kaidanow said.
Many of the arguments made in support of the new CAT policy are also similar to the arguments of the MTCR RAND report, namely that by selling our defense systems and reforming export controls, the US can increase partner-nation capacity while increasing American industry business opportunities and improving relations with foreign nations, staving off cooperation with another great competitor, like China.
“The United States and its industries, although having incredibly capable military equipment, is not the only game in town,” said Keith Webster, President of the Defense and Aerospace Export Council at the US Chamber of Commerce. “We’re seeing the emergence of the Chinese and their military industrial complex. We’re also seeing Russia continue to advance some of its capability as well as others friends and allies who have created military industrial complexes.”
However, critics say that the new CAT policy gives the administration further cover to sell weapons to some of the world’s worst human rights violators.
The administration firmly denies that will happen.
“The CAT policy requires that every sale be assessed for the risk that it may contribute to a gross violation of human rights,” Kaidanow said. “We will not provide arms where we believe they will be used to conduct gross violations of human rights.”
Still others worry about the impact the optics and frame of the increased arms transfers may have on human rights.
“When we stress the economic side of this, that is what is seen. And when President Trump meets with the Saudis and holds up posters of weapons and the amounts of sales the message being perceived in the world is that the human rights, the other concerns, the security don’t matter,” Jacob Abramson said, a senior fellow as the Arms Control Association. “It’s a transactional approach. It’s about faster and more. And faster and more can be a recipe for disaster.”
But at the bottom line, the new CAT policy is an emphasis from President Trump himself that the administration wants a “whole of government approach” for US industry so that our partners “buy American and hire American.”
“We’re hearing from partners, from a lot of folks that we’re slow, we can’t compete, we take too long to make decisions, we take too long to produce our stuff, we produce wonderful stuff but it’s too expensive,” Cressey said. “Now what we have [with the new CAT policy] is we have a top-down direction from the White House that we need to really take a better look at how we’re doing things and we have that top cover to implement those kinds of changes that will make the [foreign military sales] process smoother where we can try to address some of the contracting issues we have.”