Sens. Lee and Murphy Introduce Bill to Prohibit Export of UAS

August 6, 2020

WASHINGTON – Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chris Coons (D-DE) today introduced legislation that would amend the Arms Export Control Act to prohibit the export of certain weaponized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Since 1987, there have been restrictions placed on the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, rockets, and unmanned air vehicles by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR is an informal, voluntary agreement among 35 countries to use export controls to slow the ability of adversarial nations to acquire equipment for weapons of mass destruction. The agreement – of which the U.S. is a participant and founding member – has proven successful in making it more difficult for nefarious state actors like Iran and North Korea to acquire weapons delivery systems.

On July 24th, the Trump administration announced a unilateral change to the United States’ export policy for UAS, downgrading the classification of a certain subset of UAS systems in order to facilitate their export. While there are some NATO and Indo-Pacific allies who are interested in buying these systems, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have expressed repeated interest in these parts, which would only better enable them to continue the war in Yemen. 

The bill would address this problem by prohibiting the export, transfer, or trade of covered unmanned aircraft systems while allowing exceptions for NATO members, Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

“It is long past time we end U.S. participation in this unauthorized and unjustified war in Yemen,” said Lee. “I am concerned that making it easier for the United States to export weapon-capable UAS systems to Saudi Arabia and the UAE further entrenches the U.S. role in the war in Yemen and perpetuates an incentive structure for keeping rather than drawing down U.S. presence in the Middle East, which is why I am joining Senator Murphy in co-sponsoring this legislation.”

“Selling weaponized drones into the Middle East could come with disastrous consequences. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has worked for decades to stop the sale of deadly missiles and drones to countries like Iran and North Korea, and the president is willing to blow it up in order to continue the blank check approach he has taken with Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Murphy. “If we allow Trump to start selling drones, we set a dangerous precedent that allows and encourages other countries to sell missile technology and advanced drones to our adversaries. In addition, the president’s action will only further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen by supplying them with advanced US-made drones. Congress can stop Trump in his tracks by making some of the limits of the MTCR legally binding. Doing so will protect innocent civilians, stop an arms race from spiraling out of control, and strengthen U.S. national security and our interests abroad.”

The full bill text can be found here