December 09, 2020

Ranking Member Menendez Speaks Ahead of Votes on Joint Resolutions of Disapproval for Trump Administration’s Proposed Arms Sale to UAE

“We must demand answers to the very serious and very reasonable questions many have of this sale.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor ahead of today’s votes on his Joint Resolutions of Disapproval to reject the Trump administration’s effort to approve a multibillion-dollar package of arms sales to the United Arab Emirates. In light of the Trump administration’s decision to rush through the precedent-setting sale of aircraft and other weapons systems without the necessary Congressional review, Menendez emphasized the importance of  protecting interagency assessment and Congressional oversight to ensure arms sales are consistent with U.S. values, uphold national security objectives, and preserve allies’ safety.

“I am not opposed to these sales if they make sense and pose no threat to U.S. or Israeli security in the short and in the long term, but these sales require and deserve careful and deliberate consideration within the interagency process, and by this Congress,” Ranking Member Menendez said, declaring that a failure to denounce the arms sale would signal his colleagues’ willingness to relinquish their constitutionally afforded responsibilities as Members of Congress. “We must demand answers to the very serious and very reasonable questions many have of this sale.”

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 provide the UAE with precedent-setting aircraft and myriad other weapons systems.

Find Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered below:

 

“Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support these resolutions of disapproval. I appreciate my distinguished colleague from Kentucky and his support and advocacy here in these particular arms sales to the United Arab Emirates.

Simply put, many aspects of this proposed sale remain conceptual. We are being asked to support a significant transfer of advanced U.S. technology, without clarity on a number of key details regarding the sale, or sufficient answers to critical national security questions.

There are simply too many outstanding questions about the protection of critical U.S. military technology, the broader implications of these sales to U.S. national security regarding the UAE’s relationships, for example, with Russia and China, as they exist today.

I have heard some of my colleagues say ‘well aren’t we concerned that they will go to Russia and China?’ They have relationships with Russia and China as it exists today in a military purchase context.

And about the long-term implications of course to the United States and to our allied state of Israel in terms of national security.

It is disappointing that we are forced to discuss these issues in such a public way through a formal Congressional expression of disapproval.

That’s not normally how we do this.

However, the Administration left us no choice because of the way in which it attempted to rush through these sales by completely subverting Congressional oversight, and, it appears, increasingly, the need for greater interagency review. 

The United States Congress has a unique legislative responsibility to oversee U.S. arms sales abroad.

This process allows Congress to engage privately with relevant national security agencies and the intended recipient countries in order to better understand the intricacies and security implications of any proposed sale. But as it has done before, the Administration decided to ignore Congressional responsibilities here, and rush through with this sale.

They blew right through that period of review that the Congress has had, normally for about 40 days.

Let me just say. The United Arab Emirates, from my view, has been an important partner in the fight against terrorism and for other U.S. national security priorities. I will suspect that it will continue to be so after this. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation.

Following the historic Abraham Accords, we started hearing that the Administration was planning to grant the UAE’s a longstanding request – the sale of the United States’ most advanced stealth fighter jets.

Both the Emiratis – and I’ve spoken to their Foreign Minister and their Ambassador – and the U.S. Administration, continue to insist, however, that there is no connection – none – between the Abraham Accords and this sale.

That’s a red herring for those who are concerned that somehow we are going to disrupt the Abraham Accords.

And while I join just about all my colleagues in applauding the advancement of diplomatic relations that builds upon years already of Israeli and Emirati engagement, there is absolutely no reason to rush through an arms sale of this magnitude — especially when we are being told there is no connection.

Interagency review of such sales usually takes many months of careful deliberation.

The Departments of State, Defense, and others must assess what capabilities are safe to sell, what technology security measures are appropriate and necessary, what restrictions on use are imposed, and how the sale will affect the national security of our friends and allies in the region and elsewhere.

Once these deliberations have concluded, a sale of this magnitude usually sits with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for an informal review process that, by the State Department’s own requirement, would last 40 days.

And then for reasons the Administration has concealed, it completely subverted this review process and officially started the statutory 30-day review – all before any briefings were even given to staff, let alone Senators and Members of the Committees of jurisdiction.

To date, we have yet to get a clear answer as to why the President and Secretary of State are trying to again circumvent the Congressional arms sales oversight process by rushing the sale of 50 of the most advanced fighter jets in the world – technology that gives Israel and the United States a critical military advantage over any adversary.

Moreover, the Administration wants to push through without any Congressional oversight, the second-largest-ever sale of armed Reaper drones to the UAE, and over 14,000 additional aircraft munitions on top of the 60,000 already sold to Abu Dhabi as part of the non-emergency last year.

I say non-emergency because they declared emergency. There was no emergency to be justified.

Delivery of these most advanced features could take years. I say that because, therefore, there is no reason that giving us a timeframe to do what we normally do to determine whether this is the right sale in the national security interest of the United States, not starting an arms race in the Middle East, also dealing with Israel – is that too much to ask? When you are not even going to get any of this equipment for years? 

These are major sales by any measure. Part of this conversation is also – as my colleague has said – about Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge that it currently has over its neighbors, and was expected to maintain with its own purchase of 50 F-35’s that are still in the process of being built and delivered.

Let me make it clear. I take a backseat to no one when it comes to advancing U.S. policies to protect Israel’s national security. I have proven that time, and time, and time again.

But this sale is fundamentally about the United States’ national security, about the United States’ qualitative military edge, and about our long-term national security. This is also about not wanting to start and thinking about at least what does it mean in terms of an advanced arms race in the region.

Unfortunately, particularly for members who do not serve on national security committees, there is much we cannot discuss in an open setting. But let me assure all of my colleagues – these sales have very real implications for their own technology security.

On October 9th of this year, Armed Services Ranking Member Senator Reed and I sent a letter to former Secretary of Defense Esper and Secretary of State Pompeo with 16 detailed questions about the F-35 sale. 

To date, we have not received satisfactory answers to any or all those questions, and I ask unanimous consent to submit that letter into the Congressional Record.

I am not opposed to these sales if they make sense and pose no threat to U.S. or Israeli security in the short and in the long term, but these sales require and deserve careful and deliberate consideration within the interagency process, and by this Congress. However, that simply has not happened.

A little while ago, my distinguished colleague from Missouri, Senator Blunt, asked on the floor – ‘what do you have to do to be a trusted partner?’

Let me try to answer that question.

Following a classified briefing with the Administration – the details of which I will not discuss here – there’s a whole host of issues that a trusted partner would ultimately have to agree to:

One: The United Arab Emirates has been building its military relations with Russia and China. Just a few years ago, the Emiratis and Russia signed an agreement to develop a 5th generation fighter jet, and to purchase Russian Sukhois. Our own Department of Defense Inspector General recently indicated that they may be funding the malicious Russian Wagner mercenary forces in Libya. So what is the status of – and what specific efforts are we taking to address – the UAE’s current and future military relationship with China and Russia? There are no answer to that.

Do we not deserve – if we are going send the most sophisticated equipment in the world to the UAE – to make sure that there is a written commitment that they are going to phase out those military engagements?

What specific steps and assurances is the United States taking to safeguard U.S. military technology against sophisticated espionage? What specific commitments do we have from Emiratis? There’s no answer to that question. A trusted partner would agree to those safeguards.

Three: The UAE last year transferred U.S. origin weapons to a terrorist organization in Yemen and has a history of targeting civilians. The Emiratis have been repeatedly accused, along with others, of violating the UN Arms embargo on Libya. What assurances do we have about how and where these new sophisticated weapons will be used? There is no answer. A trusted partner would agree to those limits.

Four: The long term threat of a highly lethal arms race and the great power competition implication this could set off across the region, and implications for future Gulf cooperation. The Qataris have already asked for their own F-35s. Is that what is next? Saudi Arabia? They may say we like the United Arab Emirates but we can’t be inferior for our own national security.

What security threats will be posed when the entire region is armed with the most sophisticated weaponry we have to offer? There are no satisfactory answers, if any, to these questions.

What guarantees do we have that these weapons will not be used against United States or Israel’s national security in the future? How will that be determined?

What might Israel need in the future to secure its Qualitative Military Edge? No clear answer to that.

What specific military threat have the Emiratis articulated that they need F-35s to address? Right now? If they have specific needs, we need to know that because if these aren’t going to come online for sometime, maybe their needs are more consequential – they need to be dealt with in a different way.

How might the Iranians react to increase of stealth fighter aircraft in their neighborhood? We have no analysis of that.

Finally, the timeline. When will the Letters of Offer and Acceptance be concluded? Why was there an initial artificial deadline? Why the rush to cut short the normal months-long interagency review process by the Congress and national security professionals? Why?

Are they trying to lock in this sale before President-elect Biden is inaugurated, regardless of the possible costs to U.S. and Israeli national security? We have no answer to that.

As I’ve said before, the United Arab Emirates has been an important partner for critical U.S. interests including the fight against terrorism and in our efforts in Afghanistan. But according to the United Nations and to the Department of Defense’s own Inspector General, at the same time, the UAE also seems to be working against our stated interests in other areas.

A trusted partner would be in collaboration and cooperation with us.

I wish we could have had these discussions in more appropriate settings. That is what we normally would have done.

This is, of course, not the first time this Administration has subverted Congress’ important oversight role in arms sales.

Last May, the Administration notified more than eight billion dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It cited a bogus ‘immediate’ threat from Iran, despite the fact that most of the sales – like these F35s – would take years to reach their intended recipients.

Colleagues, at the end of the day, we must assert our Congressional prerogative not for the sake of prerogative in and of itself, but to safeguard the U.S. national security interests that we all are collectively and individually entrusted to do.

We must demand answers to the very serious and very reasonable questions many have of this sale. Perhaps with due diligence, we will find that this sale will indeed bolster U.S. national security. But right now, the truth is, we do not have clarity on that most fundamental question.

Colleagues, do you really want a sale of this magnitude to go through without the appropriate vetting measures? Voting against these resolutions sends a message to the Executive Branch – whoever is sitting in the White House – that we are willing to give up our Congressional responsibilities. Hard to bring that back once you let it go. It says that we will not stop arms sales in the future that have not gone through the appropriate review process.

For that reason, I urge all of our colleagues support these resolutions of disapproval so that we may have more time to assess for ourselves the nuances of these sales, the repercussions they have in the region for decades to come, to ensure technology transfer doesn’t take place, and to ensure that the national security interests of the United States are preserved.

I urge you to support these resolutions to stand up for those propositions. Both are critical to protecting U.S. national security interests.

With that, I yield the floor.”

 

 

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