Security Brief

Clash Coming Over Trump’s Arms Sales to Saudi, UAE

A bipartisan group of senators vowed to block the administration’s move to bypass Congress and expedite an $8 billion package.

President Donald Trump shows off posters as he talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump shows off posters as he talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

What’s on tap today: Senators respond to Trump’s use of a national security emergency to push through arms sales, Shanahan decides against further punishments for senior-level officers involved in the October 2017 Niger ambush, and Arab states foment chaos in Sudan.

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Trump Faces Pushback on Arms Sales

Capitol Hill rebuke. In a bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump, a group of senators on Wednesday vowed to block $8 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states.

The announcement comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 24 declared a national security emergency in order to bypass Congress and expedite deals, citing the threat from Iran. By law, Congress reviews all arms sales.

What’s in the package? The most controversial weapons in the planned arms sales package are precision-guided bombs, which would likely be used in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Other items include equipment for AH-64 Apache helicopters, laser-guided rockets, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Patriot missiles, and F-16 fighter jet engine parts for the UAE, as well as mortar bombs, engines and maintenance support for F-15 fighter jets for Saudi Arabia.

Clash coming. The senators are introducing 22 separate joint resolutions of disapproval for each of the sales, vowing to “protect and reaffirm” Congress’ role in approving arms sales. The move sets up a confrontation with the administration: If Congress adopts the resolutions and Trump vetoes the measures, lawmakers would have to secure a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

We will not stand idly by.’ The Trump administration’s national emergency declaration “is yet another example of an end-run around Congress and a disregard for human rights,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, who introduced the legislation along with Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and other senators. “We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales.”

Ex-defense lobbyist out. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has forced out Charles Faulkner, a former lobbyist for bomb-maker Raytheon, over his  role in crafting the plan to fast-track the arms sales package, according to the Wall Street Journal. Lawmakers want to know if Faulkner violated ethics rules by taking part in discussions on the emergency declaration.

Shanahan’s Niger Review Seen as ‘Rubber Stamp’

Pentagon chief declines further punishments. Nearly two years after an October 2017 ambush that left four American soldiers dead in Niger, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has approved the decision to discipline eight military officers over their role in the deadly incident. But in a move that has angered some lawmakers and former defense officials, Shanahan declined to recommend further punishments for senior-level U.S. Special Operations officers involved in the operation, Lara Seligman writes.

The decision, which comes two months after Shanahan’s surprise April announcement that he had ordered a review into the original investigation, is seen by some as a “rubber stamp” of U.S. Special Operations Command’s decision to discipline seven Green Berets and an Air Force two-star, but spare two other Green Beret commanders involved in authorizing the mission.

Families speak out. Family members of some of the fallen soldiers reacted angrily on Wednesday to the news that no further disciplinary action would be taken, ABC News reports. “I’m angry as hell,” said Debra Gannon, the mother of Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in the incident.

What We’re Watching

Chaos in Sudan. After weeks of optimism following the April downfall of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir, Sudan is now on the brink of a total breakdown–and the influence of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates is unmistakable. U.S. officials are unhappy over the role of Arab states in fomenting chaos, but say their hands are tied, Robbie Gramer and Justin Lynch report.

Human rights abuses in Yemen. The Trump administration is calling on the UAE to allow independent monitors to probe alleged incidents of torture in detention facilities in Yemen, just months after the Pentagon insisted that it had no evidence of detainee abuse, Al-Monitor reports.

China helped Saudis escalate missile program. The U.S. government has obtained intelligence showing that Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China, CNN reports. The discovery of the Saudi efforts has heightened concerns on Capitol Hill over a potential arms race in the Middle East.

Arms sales to Taiwan. The United States is pursuing the sale of more than $2 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan, including tanks and anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions, Reuters reports. The news sparked anger from China, which deems Taiwan its own, amid an escalating trade war. It also comes just days after Washington and Beijing traded barbs over China’s actions in the South China Sea.

A Taliban commander’s double life. In one life, he was Zabet Khan, a 25-year-old with a high school diploma, four children and a fondness for taking photos with his pink selfie stick. In the other, he was Commander Zarqawi, a Taliban veteran in eastern Afghanistan with 10 years of combat experience in a war he couldn’t break away from. The New York Times has a deep-dive on Khan’s life by the gun and death in a mysterious parcel bombing last August.

Tech & Cyber

Huawei to develop 5G network in Russia. Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has signed a deal with Russia’s MTS to develop a 5G network in the country over the next year.

North Korea’s big bomb. Scientists looking anew at a 2017 North Korean nuclear test discovered that the explosion was likely about two-thirds more powerful than U.S. officials previously thought, Patrick Tucker reports for Defense One. The new data suggests that the blast was between 148 and 328 kilotons, and probably around 250 kilotons, which would be about 16 times more powerful than the one that leveled Hiroshima.

State’s new cybersecurity bureau. The State Department has sent to Congress a long-awaited plan to reestablish a cybersecurity-focused bureau it says is key to supporting U.S. diplomatic efforts in cyberspace, reports CyberScoop. The new plan would create the Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies, which would have a proposed staff of 80 and projected budget of $20.8 million.

Army to test hypersonic missile. The first joint flight test of a hypersonic weapon will happen next year and another test every six months will develop the tech until it can be fielded likely in 2022, the Army said Wednesday. Developing the weapons on time is key for the Pentagon as both China and Russia are developing hypersonic capabilities that they say can defeat conventional anti-missile defense systems, writes Military Times.

Quote of the Week

“The first bullet fired in the Persian Gulf will push oil prices above $100.”

A top military aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Yahya Rahim Safavi warns that oil would be in the crosshairs if there is a confrontation between the United States and Iran.

That’s it for today. For more from FP, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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