Pakistan, Saudi Arabia Cleared for U.S. Arms Buys

Article excerpt

Key lawmakers this summer slammed the Bush administration for its handling of up to $5 billion in proposed combat aircraft sales to Pakistan, but Congress still let the weapons deals proceed. Legislators also recently assented to $9.7 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The 1976 Arms Export Control Act requires Congress to receive notice of proposed arms sales exceeding $14 million that do not involve Australia, Japan, New Zealand, or NATO members, all of which have a higher reporting threshold and a shorter congressional review period. In all other cases, lawmakers have 30 calendar days to block a notified deal by passing a joint resolution of disapproval.

On June 28, the Pentagon detailed plans to provide Pakistan with 36 F-16C/D combat aircraft, an assortment of F-16 engines and upgrade kits, and thousands of bombs and missiles, including 500 advanced air-to-air missiles. Describing Pakistan as a "vital ally," the Pentagon stated the arms would be used in fighting terrorists, such as al Qaeda, and "would not significantly reduce India's quantitative or qualitative military advantage" in the region. With India, the Bush administration is pursuing closer military ties, including offering F-16s, as well as an enhanced civil nuclear trade relationship (see page 27).

The United States and Pakistan have tangled for years over sales of F-16s, which can be built or modified to deliver nuclear weapons. The United States provided Pakistan with 40 F-16s during the 1980s but then halted deliveries in 1990 over Islamabad's covert nuclear weapons program, which Pakistan unveiled to the world with nuclear tests in May 1998.

The United States resisted Pakistan's pressure to end the F-16 freeze until President George W. Bush relented in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the subsequent U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. The two countries started negotiating possible sale options in 2005, and the Pentagon transferred two older-model F-16s to Pakistan in December. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Still, the administration's formal announcement to deliver three dozen new F-16s to Pakistan sparked an uproar from House International Relations Committee members, who convened a July 20 hearing to upbraid a senior administration official about the deal. Although some committee members faulted aspects of the sale, much of the outcry stemmed from the administration's failure to follow traditional procedures.

Specifically, the administration did not give the 20-day advance notice typical for formal arms sales notifications. This period is intended to allow reservations about a particular sale to be expressed and worked out privately to avoid public quarrels.

At the hearing, Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) charged that neglecting the pre-notification process constituted a "deliberate and, we believe, wholly inappropriate maneuver by the State Department to diminish the Congress' lawful oversight of arms sales." Consequently, he said, "long-standing congressional concerns about the potential for technology diversion remain." The Department of State administers arms sales policies and licensing, while the Pentagon helps negotiate and implement U.S. government weapons transfers to foreign governments.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs John Hillen defended the administration's approach at the hearing. He contended the administration had taken "unprecedented" steps to keep Congress appraised and would require Pakistan to enact stringent measures to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to or stealing U.S. technology. "The security plan greatly exceeds United States Air Force standards for our own security of these weapons systems," Hillen claimed. …