December 09, 2020

Menendez Delivers Floor Remarks on Joint Resolutions of Disapproval of Trump Administration’s Proposed Arms Sale to UAE

“Do we really think we can sell this just to the UAE and not have those other countries come knocking on our door and start a very sophisticated arms race in the tinderbox of the world?”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate Floor on his Joint Resolutions of Disapproval to reject the Trump administration’s effort to provide the United Arab Emirates with precedent-setting aircraft and myriad other weapons systems. In his statement, Ranking Member Menendez discussed the national security risks inherent in the proposed sale in addition to the sale’s adverse implications in terms of both regional and global stability. The Senate will vote later this afternoon on whether to move forward with the bipartisan Resolutions of Disapproval.

“There are far too many outstanding questions and very serious questions about long-term U.S. national security interests,” Ranking Member Menendez said, citing the UAE’s present and future military relationships with Russia and China, weapons’ future use, and the deal’s impact on both the United States’ national security and Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. “Beyond obliterating the Congressional review process, the Administration also seems to have rushed through the interagency review of a sale of this magnitude. Whereas a sale of this scope would normally merit months and months of detailed deliberations between the Departments of Defense and State, this sale was announced with more missing than a few dotted I’s and crossed T’s.”

Introduced by Ranking Member Menendez together with Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the bipartisan resolutions came after the Trump administration formally notified Congress of its intention to sell over $23 billion in Reaper drones and other munitions, F-35 joint strike fighter jets, and air-to-air missiles to the UAE.

“Do we really think we can sell this just to the UAE and not have those other countries come knocking on our door and start a very sophisticated arms race in the tinderbox of the world?” Ranking Member Menendez added.

Find Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered below:

“Mr. President, today I am asking our colleagues to stand up for two very important principles: one is the Congressional oversight over arms sales abroad and secondly to ensure that these sales in fact promote and protect the long-term national security of the United States.

Colleagues – I wish we didn’t find ourselves in the position of having to discuss our concerns with this sale in this kind of forum. The United Arab Emirates has indeed been an important partner in the fight against terrorism and across the region, and I believe will continue to do so. However, a sale of this magnitude requires the appropriate due diligence.

For the past few decades, the Executive Branch has respected Congressional oversight of the arms sales process, a critical piece of which is an informal review period during which we can get answers to pressing questions. We have an opportunity to review sensitive information so that when sales come up with the formal notification, which is what we have before us now, we have a clearer path forward.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Trump administration decided to simply ignore Congressional rights here and the review process, formally notifying the sales of these complex weapons systems along with other weaponry totaling 23 billion dollars. Beyond obliterating the Congressional review process, the Administration also seems to have rushed through the interagency review of a sale of this magnitude. Whereas a sale of this scope would normally merit months and months of detailed deliberations between the Departments of Defense and State, this sale was announced with more missing than a few dotted I’s and crossed T’s.

I will go into more detail later before we vote, but the bottom line is that there are many outstanding issues critical to U.S. national security that have not been addressed, including, by way of example: the United Arab Emirates’ present and future military relationships with Russia and China. My understanding is that there are negotiations to have with China an airstrip for Chinese military off of the UAE. Is that in the national interest and security of the United States? Should we not have a definitive commitment from the UAE that that will not move forward?

If these arms sales move forward, including the most sophisticated stealth jet fighter that we have, how do we work to safeguard U.S. technology?

The guarantees we will have in place about how U.S. origin weapons will be used given the Emiratis’ history of transferring weapons to a terrorist organization and violating the UN arms embargo in Libya.

The longer term implications of an arms race in the region, and, yes, the impact that could have on both our and Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. 

If we aren’t going to be willing to ask these questions, then we have to think about the magnitude of the sale without caring about the consequences.

Now, I have heard a number of my colleagues advocate in support of these sales because they believe that it will help our like-minded partners better posture against Iran. No one is more clear-eyed in this chamber or has pursued Iran and its threat of nuclear weapons more than I. We are clear-eyed about the threat Iran continues to pose to U.S. national security interests.

But we have yet to understand exactly what military threat the F-35s or armed drones will be addressing vis a vis Iran. Furthermore, according to the Trump administration as recently as last year, the UAE continued to host a number of companies who facilitate Iranian financial transactions in violation of various U.S. sanctions.

So Iran is a threat but you’re helping them facilitate U.S. financial transactions – not that I said so, but the Trump administration said so. 

Meanwhile Iran over the past year has ramped up its nuclear capabilities amidst American diplomatic fallout.

So if we really want to talk about countering Iran, we need a comprehensive diplomatic strategy – arming partners with complex weapons systems that could take years to come online is not a serious strategy to confront the very real and timely threats from Iran.

I have also heard some of our colleagues who argue that if we do not sell these weapons, the UAE will turn to China and Russia. Well, let’s be clear: They already do. Our own Department of Defense Inspector General recently reported that the UAE may be funding the Russian mercenary Wagner group in Libya. UN reporting implicates the UAE’s use of Chinese-manufactured drones in violation of the UN Arms Embargo also in Libya.

So while I absolutely agree we have to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region, again, this requires a real strategy, not simply more arms.

Isn’t this a conversation and a commitment that we should get from the UAE in writing as a part of such an arms sale? We don’t have that.

Furthermore, if we go forward with these sales, yet deny similar requests to countries like Qatar or Saudi Arabia – where will they go for advanced weaponry to keep pace? And what reaction will Iran have to them?

Do we really think we can sell this just to the UAE and not have those other countries come knocking on our door and start a very sophisticated arms race in the tinderbox of the world?

Finally, let me very clear – I applaud the Abraham Accords as a historical turning point for Israel and the Arab world. These new formal relationships have the possibility to transform the region much more broadly, bringing peace, stability and prosperity for people who desperately want and deserve it. But as the Administration and the Emiratis have continued to stress – these sales are not a reward nor are they part of these accords. So why can’t we take a little bit more time to really assess the best way forward?

We are in the midst of promoting a sale – this is the Administration – that has some of the most significant transfers of advanced U.S. technology without clarity on a number of the key details regarding the sale, or sufficient answers to critical national security questions.

This is far more than about Congressional prerogative, although I would argue that that is a critical element of our policies on arms sales. This is about national security concerns that we should have an answer to before those arms sales move forward.

Again, colleagues, the bottom line is this: There are far too many outstanding questions and very serious questions about long-term U.S. national security interests. Perhaps after considerable engagement with the Executive, we would assess that all these sales do in fact advance our national security. Given the length of time it will take for delivery of these systems, it would seem quite reasonable to expect 40 days to evaluate these questions.

So I urge my colleagues to stand up for Congress’ role in the process of determining arms sales as well as for having a clear answer to the critical questions that are posed to long-term U.S. national security interests.”

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Press Contact

Juan Pachon (Menendez)