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Jimmy Carter Administration: Remarks on U.S. Arms Sales Policy

(May 19, 1977)

After a review of the American arms transfer policy, President Carter decided to implement a policy of arms restraint, and with the exception of countries with whom the U.S. had defence treaties (NATO, Japan, Australia and New Zealand), all other nations would be subject to a set of controls. As for Israel, the President stated that "we will remain faithful to our treaty obligations, and will honor our historic responsibilities to assure the security of the State of Israel."

The virtually unrestrained spread of conventional weaponry threatens stability in every region of the world. Total arms sales in recent years have risen to over 20 billion dollars and the United States accounts for more than one half of this amount. Each year the weapons transferred are not only more numerous but also more sophisticated and deadly. Because of the threat to world peace embodied in this spiraling arms traffic and because of the special responsibilities we bear as the largest arms seller I believe that the United States must take steps to restrain arms transfers.

Therefore shortly after my inauguration, I directed a comprehensive review of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy including all military political and economic factors. After reviewing the results of this study and discussing those results with members of congress and foreign leaders, I have concluded that the United States will henceforth view arms transfers as an exceptional foreign policy implement to be used only in instances where it can be clearly demonstrated that the transfer contributes to our national security interests. We will continue to utilize arms transfers to promote our security and the security of our close friends. But in the future the burden of persuasion will be on those who favor a particular arms sale rather than those who oppose it. To implement a policy of arms restraint, I am establishing the following set of controls, applicable to all transfers except those to countries with which we have major defense treaties (NATO, Japan, Australia and New Zealand). We will remain faithful to our treaty obligations, and will honor our historic responsibilities to assure the security of the state of Israel. These controls will be binding unless extraordinary circumstances necessitate a presidential exception or where I determine that countries friendly to the United States must depend on advanced weaponry to offset quantitative and other disadvantages in order to maintain a regional balance.

- The dollars volume (in constant FY 1967 dollars) of new commitments under the foreign military sales and military assistance programs for weapons and weapons related items in FY 1978 will be reduced from the FY 1977 total. Transfers which can clearly be classified as services are not covered nor are commercial sales, which the U.S. government monitors through the issuance of export licenses. Commercial sales are already significantly restrained by existing legislation and executive branch policy.

- The United States will not be the first supplier to introduce into a region newly developed, advanced weapons systems which would create a new or significantly higher combat capability. Also any commitment for sale or co-production of such weapons is prohibited until they are operationally deployed with U.S. forces. This removing the incentive to promote foreign sale in an effort to lower unit costs for defense department procurement.

- Development of significant modifications of advanced weapons systems solely for export will not be permitted.

- Co-production agreements for significant weapons, equipment and major components (beyond assembly of sub-component and the fabrication of high turnover spare parts) are prohibited. A limited class of items will be considered for co-production arrangements but with restrictions on third country exports, since these arrangements are intended primarily for the co-producer's requirements.

- In addition to existing requirements of the law the United States as a condition of sale for certain weapons, equipment of major component may stipulate that we will not entertain any requests for retransfers. By establishing at the outset that the United States will not entertain such requests we can avoid unnecessary bilateral friction caused by later denials.

- An amendment to the international traffic in arms regulations will be issued requiring policy level authorization by the Department of State for actions by agents of the United States or private manufactures, which might promote the sale of arms abroad. In addition, embassies and military representatives abroad will not promote the sale of arms and the Secretary of Defense will continue his review of government procedures particularly procurement regulations, which may provide incentives for foreign sales.

In formulating security assistance programs consistent with these controls we will continue our efforts to promote and advance respect for human rights in recipient countries. Also we will assess the economic impact of arms transfers to those less developed countries receiving U.S. economic assistance.

I am initiating this policy of restrain in the full understanding that actual reductions in the world wide traffic in arms will require multilateral cooperation. Because we dominate the world market to such a degree, I believe that the United States can and should take the first step. However, in the immediate future, the United States will meet with other arms suppliers, including the Soviet Union to begin discussion of possible measures for multilateral action. In addition we will do whatever we can to encourage regional agreements among purchasers to limit arms imports.

Sources: Public Papers of the President