Trump to call on Pentagon, diplomats to play bigger role on arms sales

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new "Buy American" plan that calls for U.S. 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, U.S. 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 U.S.-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 U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.

RELATED: A look at ISIS weapons of war

22 PHOTOS
The Islamic State's preferred weapons of war
See Gallery
The Islamic State's preferred weapons of war
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank gun hidden inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack from planes are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A tank inside a truck, made by Islamic State militants, to avoid attack of the plane is seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A vehicle used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, is seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Federal Police inspects vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
A member of Federal Police walks near vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The administration is also under pressure from U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. official said, without providing specifics.

The strategy of having the Pentagon and the U.S. 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.

SEE ALSO: Wife of Pennsylvania police chief who tried to solicit sex from a 14-year-old girl breaks her silence

"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 U.S. arms, as underutilized by previous presidents.

Graphic on U.S. arms sales: http://tmsnrt.rs/2CZkZMB

'BACK SEAT' FOR HUMAN RIGHTS?

One national security analyst said that easing export restrictions to allow defense contractors to reap greater profits internationally would increase the danger of top-of-the-line U.S. weapons going to governments with poor human rights records or being used by militants.

"This administration has demonstrated from the very beginning that human rights have taken a back seat to economic concerns," said Rachel Stohl, director of the conventional defense program at the Stimson Center in Washington. "And the short-sightedness of a new arms export policy could have serious long-term implications."

The administration officials said human rights considerations would remain part of the formula for arms sales decisions. But they said such reviews would now afford greater weight than before to whether a deal would be good for the U.S. economy and strengthen America's defense industrial base, in which case red tape would be cut accordingly.

Rules to make it easier to sell U.S.-made military drones overseas and compete against fast-growing Chinese and Israeli rivals are also expected to be in the Trump plan, officials said.

RELATED: The past 16 years at war with Afghanistan

23 PHOTOS
The past 16 years at war in Afghanistan
See Gallery
The past 16 years at war in Afghanistan
The United States and Britain on October 7, 2001 launched a first wave of air strikes against Afghanistan and President George W. Bush said the action heralded a "sustained, comprehensive and relentless" campaign against terrorism. Eyewitnesses said they saw flashes and heard explosions over the Afghan capital of Kabul in the first phase of what the United States has said will be a protracted and wide-ranging war against terrorism and the states that support it. The attack had been prepared since the September 11 suicide attacks on the United States that killed around 5,600 people. A U.S. Air force B-52 bomber drops a load of M117 750-pound bombs over a bombing range in the United States in this undated file photo.B-52s, B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers are some of the aircraft that were reportedly used in the attacks on Afghanistan. REUTERS/USAF-Handout KM/HB
Two Northern Alliance soldiers watch as the dust and smoke rises after explosions in Taliban positions on Kalakata hill, near the village of Ai-Khanum in northern Afghanistan, November 1, 2001. The Pentagon said on Wednesday B-52s dropped heavy loads of bombs, a tactic known as carpet bombing, on Taliban troops north of Kabul as a result of improved tergeting intelligence, partly from U.S. special forces on the ground. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko VF/CRB
U.S. Marine PV2 Eileen M. Schnetzko stands on guard at Bagram airport, March 2, 2002. U.S. troops are based at Bagram, north of Kabul. There are some 4,000 U.S. troops based in Afghanistan as part of the international war against terrorism. REUTERS/Mario Laporta REUTERS ML
A U.S. special forces soldier (L) watches while Afghan militia wait in line to turn in their weapons at a military base in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 22, 2003. A long-awaited U.N.-sponsored project to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate 100,000 soldiers across Afghanistan was under way in the north, a key step to bringing eventual peace to this war-torn country. The "New Beginnings Programme," which lets soldiers exchange their weapons for jobs, began in the northern province of Kunduz this week. REUTERS/Richard Vogel/Pool RV KAJ/FA
A Chinook helicopter hovers over U.S. troops in the village of Jegdelic, about 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, in this picture taken on December 24, 2004. A U.S. military helicopter carrying up to 20 American troops crashed during an anti-guerrilla mission in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, U.S. officials said. The fate of those on board was not immediately known. Picture taken December 24, 2004. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood Am/mk BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
An Afghan boy looks at U.S. soldiers as they patrol a village near the town of Makkor, southwest of Kabul April 20, 2007. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
A U.S. soldier works with a shovel as a vehicle is stuck in mud, some 70km south of Ghazni, southeastern Afghanistan April 23, 2007. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
British and a U.S. soldiers control the crowd during medical assistance in Kabul February 26, 2008. U.S. and British troops provided medical assistance worth of $50,000 to the Afghan locals in Kabul on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood (AFGHANISTAN)
Sgt. William Olas Bee, a U.S. Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has a close call after Taliban fighters opened fire near Garmsir in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, May 18, 2008. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic (AFGHANISTAN)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) and U.S. Army General David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan (R) listen to Afghan governors and local officials during their visit to Forward Operating Base Airborne in the mountains of Wardak Province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2009. Gates on May 11, 2009 replaced the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General David McKiernan, less than a year after he took over the war effort there. Gates said he asked for McKiernan's resignation and recommended Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of special operations forces, to take over command of 45,000 U.S. troops and about 32,000 other troops from non-U.S. NATO countries. REUTERS/Jason Reed (AFGHANISTAN MILITARY POLITICS)
U.S. soldiers of the 2-12 Infantry, 4th Brigade prepare to tow a broken-down improvised explosive device (IED) detecting Huskie vehicle during a patrol in the Pesh Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar Province July 30, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne (AFGHANISTAN CONFLICT)
U.S. soldiers kneel during a memorial ceremony for Captain Daniel Whitten and Private First Class Zachary Lovejoy from Charlie Company, 4th Brigade combat team,1-508, 82nd Parachute Infantry Regiment at the Remote Sweeney FOB in Zabul province, southern Afghanistan, February 8, 2010. CPT Whitten from Grimes, Iowa, and PFC Lovejoy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, were killed by an IED on February 2. when on patrol in southern Afghanistan. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT MILITARY)
Canadian soldiers play table football under flashlights at a military outpost near the village of Bazaar e Panjwaii, in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province August 8, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY)
U.S. Army medic Staff Sergeant Rahkeem Francis with Charlie Company, 6-101 Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, treats an Afghan boy with a broken leg onboard a medevac helicopter near the town of Marjah in Helmand Province, August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS)
U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CONFLICT MILITARY IMAGES OF THE DAY POLITICS)
An Afghan shepherd walks with a flock of sheep past a U.S. Marines armored vehicle of the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines outside the Camp Gorgak in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan July 5, 2011. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANIMALS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
First Sergeant Mac Miller from Comanche Troop 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry lift weights as he exercises in Forward Operating Base Connolly in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, March 3, 2012. Picture taken March 3, 2012. REUTERS/Erik De Castro (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: MILITARY CONFLICT)
A U.S. Army soldier and a member of the Afghan Uniform Police arm wrestle prior to a joint patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A U.S. service member takes a "selfie" as U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with troops after delivering remarks at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, May 25, 2014. Obama, on a visit to Afghanistan, said on Sunday his administration would likely announce soon how many troops the United States will keep in the country, as it winds down its presence after nearly 13 years of war. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)
Afghan children gesture at U.S. soldiers from Grim Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment as they stand guard near an Afghan police checkpoint during a mission near Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY CONFLICT)
U.S. soldiers attend to a wounded soldier at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan June 30, 2015. At least 17 people were wounded in a suicide bomb attack on NATO troops as their truck convoy passed down the main road running between Kabul's airport and the U.S. embassy, police and health ministry officials said. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A U.S. soldier keeps watch at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan January 4, 2016. A large explosion struck close to Kabul airport on Monday, causing at least 10 casualties near to the area where a suicide bomber blew himself up earlier in the day in the latest in a series of attacks in the Afghan capital over the past week. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, also sought to make it easier to sell to America's most trusted allies but in a more cautious approach that his administration billed as a way to boost American business while keeping strict controls against more dangerous arms proliferation. Foreign weapons sales soared during his tenure, with the United States retaining its position as the world's top arms supplier.

Shares of the five biggest U.S. defense contractors, including Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon Co, General Dynamics Corp and Northrop Grumman have more than tripled over the last five years and currently trade at or near all-time highs.

Foreign military sales in fiscal 2017, comprising much of Trump's first year in office and the final months of Obama's term, climbed to $42 billion, compared to $31 billion in the prior year, according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The Trump administration has already moved forward on several controversial sales. Those include a push for $7 billion in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they have contributed to civilian deaths in the Saudi campaign in Yemen's civil war and the unblocking of $3 billion in arms to Bahrain, which was also held up by human rights concerns under Obama.

Similar concerns have been raised over the administration's preparations to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.

A draft of the new policy proposals recently finished by inter-agency teams coordinated by Trump's National Security Council must now be approved by a select group of senior cabinet members before being sent to his desk, the government sources said.

Once Trump announces an extensive framework of the plan, there will be a 60-day public comment period. After that, the administration is expected to unveil further details. Some of the changes are expected to take the form of what is formally known as a presidential "National Security Decision Directive," two of the sources said.

(Reporting by Mike Stone and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Grant McCool)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.