WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) on Thursday introduced legislation to block the sale of advanced armed drones to countries not closely allied to the United States. Last month, the Trump administration announced that it would allow the sale of advanced armed drones to other nations and bypass part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The body, which the United States helped establish decades ago, seeks to limit the proliferation of missile technology, unmanned aircraft, and weapons of mass destruction. President Trump announced in 2018 that he would short-circuit’ the review process at the Department of Defense and Department of State for the review of these advanced weapons sales.

This legislation would amend the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to prohibit the export, transfer, or trade of advanced drones with a range greater than 300km or a payload greater than 500kg, as defined by Category 1 of the MTCR. An exception is provided for NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel.

“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.”

“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.” 

“For far too long, the United States has been feeding conflict in the Middle East rather than ending it,” said Sanders. “The role of the United States should be to bring people together to make peace, not to keep pouring weapons into this volatile region to enrich multi-billionaire weapons contractors. I am proud to join Senator Murphy on this important bill to prevent the sale of these weaponized drones.”

“This bill reflects bipartisan congressional concerns that the Trump Administration is attempting to undermine Congress’ role in overseeing arms sales and international frameworks to monitor arms proliferation,” said Coons. “Congress should exercise additional oversight of U.S. arms sales and make sure that our advanced conventional weapons only go to allies who share our values and respect human rights.”