Article image Trump eases controls on armed drone exports

US Eases Export Rules on Sale of Military Drones to Allies

The administration's action effectively bypasses part of the 33-year-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) agreement, which has the form of an informal political understanding between states and is meant to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms.

"This policy change modernises our approach to implementing our MTCR commitments". Though the move has yet to materialize, discussions in the White House were apparently prompted by a showdown with lawmakers a year ago over sales to Saudi Arabia, which saw the administration declare a national emergency in order to expedite the deals over objections from Congress.

"Not only do these outdated standards give an unfair advantage to countries outside of the MTCR and hurt United States industry, they also hinder our deterrence capability overseas by handicapping our partners and allies with subpar technology", said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Today, the administration announced an update to the 2018 Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Export Policy which affects one of America's most innovative industries.

"I commend the administration for its robust, years-long diplomatic effort to modernise the MTCR to account for China's actions".

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The United States has already quietly bypassed the arms agreement to give licenses to American companies to sell banned drones in at least four instances, mainly to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally nations, a congressional aide said.

"The Trump administration has once again weakened global export controls on the export of lethal drones", said Senator Bob Menendez in a statement.

It is important to appreciate that the Missile Technology Control Regime originally adopted stringent controls on exports of advanced drones at the urging of the United States.

The MTCR was aimed at controlling the spread of missiles that could deliver large payload like nuclear weapons.

"From the beginning of its term, the Trump administration has been focused on short term economic gains rather than a longer term focus on US national security and foreign policy interests", Rachel Stohl, vice president of the Stimson Center and a leading analyst in weapons and arms control, wrote on Twitter. No longer subject to the MTCR's high bar, large drone exports will be considered on a case-by-case basis like other weapons sales. Trump wants to be free to sell UAVs that can carry heavy warheads, bombs, and other explosive devices more than 300 km, he alleged.

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