U.S. Congress Debates Bill to Conceal More Arms Sales from Public Scrutiny

U.S. Congress

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss a bill that would increase the amount of money that the U.S. government can spend on foreign weapons sales without notifying Congress or the public. The bill, known as the TIGER Act, has sparked controversy among lawmakers, defense industry groups, and human rights advocates.

U.S. Congress

What is the TIGER Act, and why is it controversial?

The TIGER Act, or the Taiwan and International Group Expedited Review Act, was introduced by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) in November 2023. The bill aims to speed up the process of foreign military sales (FMS) by raising the thresholds at which the executive branch has to inform Congress of proposed arms transfers.

Currently, the president has to notify Congress of any FMS deal that involves major defense equipment worth more than $14 million or defense articles, services, or training worth more than $50 million. The TIGER Act would increase these thresholds to $23 million and $83 million, respectively. The bill would also allow the State Department to use the Pentagon’s Special Defense Acquisition Fund, a revolving account that can be used to procure weapons for FMS.

The bill’s supporters argue that the current FMS system is too slow and bureaucratic and that it hinders the U.S.’s ability to support its allies and partners, especially Taiwan, which faces growing threats from China. They also claim that the bill would boost the U.S. defense industry and create jobs.

However, the bill’s opponents contend that the bill would reduce congressional oversight and public accountability of U.S. arms sales, which could have negative impacts on human rights, regional stability, and global security. They point out that the bill would exempt billions of dollars worth of arms transfers from scrutiny and that the current thresholds already obscure most of the FMS deals. They also question the need to expedite FMS to Taiwan, given that the U.S. has already approved several major arms packages for the island in recent years.

How did the hearing go, and what are the next steps?

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. The hearing was divided along partisan lines, with most Republicans supporting the bill and most Democrats opposing it. The committee eventually voted 26-20 to advance the bill, with one Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), joining the Republicans.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Waltz, defended the bill as a necessary measure to strengthen U.S. alliances and deter aggression. He said, “We should arm our allies and simplify the bureaucracy so they can do the fighting for our interests and less involve the United States. This is about jobs; this is about empowering our allies to fight for themselves.”

On the other hand, the bill’s critics, such as Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), argued that the bill would undermine the role of Congress and the public in overseeing U.S. arms sales. She said, “The bill would essentially eliminate congressional review for billions of dollars worth of arms transfers.”

The bill also faced opposition from a coalition of 17 civil society groups, including the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the Middle East Democracy Center, which sent a letter to the committee last week urging them to reject the bill. The letter stated, “The TIGER Act would further erode the already limited checks and balances on U.S. arms sales, which have contributed to grave human rights violations, humanitarian crises, and armed conflicts around the world.”

The bill will now move to the House floor for a vote. If it passes the House, it will still have to go through the Senate, where it may face more resistance. The bill’s fate will also depend on the position of the Biden administration, which has not yet expressed its official stance on the bill. The administration has faced criticism for its handling of U.S. arms sales, especially to Israel, which it has reportedly approved without proper notification or consultation with Congress.

U.S. Congress

What are the implications of the bill for U.S. foreign policy and global security?

The TIGER Act, if enacted, would have significant implications for U.S. foreign policy and global security. The bill would affect U.S. relations with its allies and adversaries, as well as the dynamics of various regional conflicts and crises.

One of the main beneficiaries of the bill would be Taiwan, which is seeking to enhance its self-defense capabilities amid rising tensions with China. The bill would facilitate the delivery of U.S. weapons and equipment to Taiwan, such as missiles, fighter jets, and submarines. The bill would also signal U.S. commitment and support to Taiwan, which is considered a key partner and a democratic model in the Indo-Pacific region.

However, the bill could also provoke a backlash from China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province and opposes any U.S. arms sales to the island. China has repeatedly warned the U.S. to stop interfering in its internal affairs and to respect the one-China principle. China has also increased its military pressure and coercion on Taiwan, conducting frequent air and naval incursions into Taiwan’s airspace and waters. The bill could escalate the risk of a military conflict between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, which could have catastrophic consequences for the region and the world.

Another potential impact of the bill would be on the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, where the U.S. has sold billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment to various countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Egypt, and Iraq. The bill would make it easier for the U.S. to continue or increase its arms sales to these countries without having to face congressional or public scrutiny.

However, the bill could also undermine U.S. efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and peace in the region. Many of the U.S. arms recipients have been accused of committing or enabling serious human rights violations, such as the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, or Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, which has fueled decades of violence and injustice. The bill could also fuel the arms race and the proxy wars in the region, which have destabilized the security and stability of the region and beyond.

The bill would also have broader implications for the global arms trade and the international norms and laws that regulate it. The U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter, accounting for 37% of global arms exports in 2019–2023, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The U.S. is also a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty, a multilateral treaty that aims to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms and to ensure that arms transfers do not contribute to human suffering, violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, terrorism, or organized crime.

The bill would weaken the U.S. leadership and credibility in promoting responsible and transparent arms trade practices and in upholding the principles and obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty. The bill would also set a negative example for other arms exporters and importers and could encourage them to evade or violate the international rules and standards that govern the global arms trade. The bill could thus undermine global efforts to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of arms transfers on human security and development.

By Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson is a talented junior content and news writer at Scope Sweep. With a passion for writing and a dedication to delivering high-quality content, Andrea has quickly established herself as a valuable contributor to the team. Graduating from the prestigious University of Sydney, she brings a strong academic foundation and a keen eye for detail to her work. Andrea's articles cover a wide range of topics, from breaking news to informative features, ensuring that readers are well-informed and engaged. With her ability to research and present information in a clear and concise manner, Andrea Wilson is committed to providing readers with accurate and captivating content. Stay connected and up-to-date with Andrea's compelling articles on Scope Sweep

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