A report released on March 8, 2018 by the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) program of the Center for International Policy records over $80 billion in U.S. foreign arms sales notifications to Congress during Trump’s first year in office. The Trump Administration total of $82.2 billion for 2017 is slightly higher than Obama Administration’s total of $76.5 billion for 2016. [1]

The major differences in most arms sales offers in 2017 in relation to other years are the types of weapons sold. In President Obama’s last year of office, most of the sales were in the form of military aircraft. To compare, the largest type of arms sales offers under the Trump Administration has been bombs and missiles, primarily driven by major missile defense deals with Saudi Arabia, Poland, Romania, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. [2]

The White House is using its new “Buy American” plan to require U.S. Military attaches and diplomats at U.S. embassy’s around the world to help organize weapons sales, resulting in billions of dollars for the U.S. defense industry. The President wants an entire ‘whole of government’ effort to help ease export rules on U.S. military products. The policy change requires that embassy staffers across the globe become a type of sales force for American defense contractors. Senior government officials said part of this plan will be to adjust the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

There has been a new proposal by the Administration that was first reported back in September of 2017 and portrayed that it would only affect the sale of small weapons systems and ammunition.

The new proposal would transfer oversight by the State Department to sell some weapons like rifles, shotguns and handguns as well as the ammunition for them over to the Commerce Department. Many experts on foreign military sales say, Commerce is an ill prepared bureaucracy and the State Department has the unique ability to review and vet potential foreign customers. [3]

The Trump Administration’s argument is that these changes would benefit America’s allies by allowing them to grow their security cooperation with the United States and increase their own capabilities. It is the Administration’s expectation that with less regulations regarding these sales, it will increase American jobs and provide more publicity to increase foreign allies interest in buying American weaponry.

Under current Congressional procedures any Senator can slow or stall a proposed deal for weapons on the U.S. Munitions List.

Under Section 36(b) of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), Congress must be formally notified 30 calendar days before the Administration can take the final steps to conclude a government-to-government foreign military sale of: major defense equipment valued at $14 million or more, defense articles or services valued at $50 million or more, or design and construction services valued at $200 million or more.

In general, the executive branch, after complying with the terms of applicable U.S. law, principally contained in the AECA, is free to proceed with an arms sales proposal unless Congress passes legislation prohibiting or modifying the proposed sale. Under current law Congress must overcome two fundamental obstacles to block or modify a Presidential sale of military equipment: it must pass legislation expressing its will on the sale, and it must be capable of overriding a presumptive Presidential veto of such legislation.

Congress, however, is free to pass legislation to block or modify any arms sale at any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved.


  1. HaHartung, William. “Trump Makes Over $80 Billion in Major Arms Deals in First Year.” Security Assistance Monitor. March 8, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://securityassistance.org/publication/trump-makes-over-80-billion-major-arms-deals-first-year.
  2. Hartung, William. “Trump Makes Over $80 Billion in Major Arms Deals in First Year.” Security Assistance Monitor. March 8, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://securityassistance.org/publication/trump-makes-over-80-billion-major-arms-deals-first-year.
  3. Shinkman, Paul D. “Trump to Speed Up U.S. Arms Sales by Reducing Oversight, Sources Say.” U.S. News & World Report. February 5, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-02-05/trump-to-speed-up-us-arms-sales-by-reducing-oversight-sources-say.