A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the sale of large armed drones to all nations other than close U.S. allies.
The legislation was crafted in response to the Trump administration’s move last month to circumvent a 33-year-old arms treaty and sell more large armed drones to foreign militaries.
President Trump signed a measure to allow U.S. defense contractors to sidestep one part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 1987 agreement between 35 countries, to allow U.S. firms to sell the drones to foreign governments previously banned from purchasing such products.
Countries that may now purchase the advanced drones include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have used U.S.-produced weapons in Yemen’s deadly civil war.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle criticized Trump’s decision, worried that the shift could cause a dangerous increase in ballistic missiles and give rise to other countries choosing to undermine agreements.
“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,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
“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.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another sponsor, argued for the end of U.S. participation in Yemen’s war.
“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,” Lee said in a statement.
The new bill would work by making some of the limits of the MTCR legally binding through amending the Arms Export Control Act.
Under the legislation, drones that can carry more than 1,100 pounds of weapons over roughly 186 miles – including the General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper and the Northrop Grumman-made RQ-4 Global Hawk – would be once again subject to pact’s strict rules.
The bill’s exceptions to the sales ban would include NATO members in addition to Australia, Israel., Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.