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Trump plans to boost Pentagon and State efforts in arms sales

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (on left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images

President Donald Trump is expected to reveal a program as early as next month that will increase the role that Pentagon attaches and State Department diplomats play in weapons sales in order to boost sales abroad, Reuters’ Mike Stone and Matt Spetalnick reported in an exclusive. One senior administration official and a National Security Council spokesperson confirmed the plan to Axios.

Why it matters: The U.S. already is the world’s top arms supplier. Critics of America’s human rights record could be quick to point out this helps the U.S. implicitly or explicitly support violence abroad or even terrorist activities.

The details, per Reuters:

  • It would be a part of Trump’s “Buy American” push and is expected to roll out as a National Security Decision Directive.
  • It could include an easing of rules on exports for foreign countries’ purchases of U.S.-made military equipment.

The big picture:

  • Trump’s administration already has made several controversial international sales, including those to Saudi Arabia and to Bahrain.
  • Former President Obama also worked to make it easier for U.S. arms sales to foreign countries, with limits on who the recipients could be. (Arms exports under Obama more than doubled former President George W. Bush's tally, per DefenseOne.)
  • The senior administration official and NSC spokesperson told Axios that national security, foreign policy, and human rights will still be central to arms transfers reviews and approvals.
  • U.S.-based defense contractors stand to benefit from the changes and could help them counter increasingly aggressive rivals in international arms sales, including Russia and China, per Reuters. “This is a win-win for the US," a defense industry official told Axios. "You get American manufacturing jobs, stronger ties with ally nations, you keep production lines hot. It’s exactly the approach that we need moving forward.”

What's next: The senior administration official told Axios the rollout should be expected sometime this winter or spring. The interagency process of ironing out proposals between the Pentagon, State and Commerce is moving forward right now.

  • "What is changing is that this Administration is putting greater focus on ensuring decisions are not delayed unnecessarily," the source told Axios.

Response: A Defense spokesperson declined to comment on the plan.

Editor's note: This has been updated with White House comment and a comment from a defense industry official.