Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper Briefing on FY 2020 Arms Sales Figures and Regional Security In the Middle East
(STL.News) MR BROWN: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this on-the-record briefing with Assistant Secretary Clarke Cooper, who leads our Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
We would like to welcome him back. He is here to discuss the Fiscal Year 2020 arms sales figures that were released on Friday, highlight the continued positive evolution of the regional security landscape across the Middle East in the wake of the historic Abraham Accords, and to provide a readout of recent travel to the region.
Assistant Secretary Cooper is happy to address 2020 accomplishments in defense trade and how the Political-Military or PM Bureau is working with U.S. industry and our foreign partners to ensure that America remains the global security partner of choice, even amidst the challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
He’ll provide brief opening remarks and then take your questions. As a reminder, the content of this briefing is embargoed until the end of the call.
And with that, I will pass it off to Assistant Secretary Cooper.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: Thank you, Cale. It’s a pleasure to join you all again.
I recently returned from my trip to the Middle East, as Cale noted, where there were a number of excellent, timely conversations with our strategic security partners in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. Under the historic Abraham Accords, I am proud to observe a positive evolution of the regional security landscape thanks to the transformational efforts undertaken by Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain.
Just this past Friday, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency Director or DSCA Director Heidi Grant and I released the Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales numbers for Fiscal Year 2020. This is the first time State and Defense provided such a joint end-of-year brief on FMS and DCS. Fiscal Year 2020 saw a total of $175.08 billion in U.S. Government-authorized arms exports – an overall 2.8 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2019.
The overall value of State Department-authorized government-to-government FMS cases implemented by the DSCA decreased 8.3 percent from $55.39 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 to $50.78 billion in Fiscal Year 2020. However, the three-year rolling average rose to $54 billion, for a 5.8 percent increase in sales volume.
Finally, Direct Commercial Sales, the value of the Department-authorized commercial export licenses, totaled $124.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2020. This was up from $114.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2019. This represented an increase of 8.4 percent.
So next, I do want to update you on how our security partnership with the UAE continues to deepen. This week, on Friday, in fact, on December 11th, marks the end of the 30-day congressional notification period for the proposed sales of F-35s, MQ-9 Bravos, and munitions to the UAE. Parallel to this benchmark, we continue to work with the UAE on the letters of offer and acceptance that, if concluded, would finalize any deal. We continue to engage in a healthy and productive dialogue with Congress on the process as it continues forward.
Only at the end of this process will the Department of Defense be able to work with U.S. industry to hammer out the production schedules and delivery timelines.
We do foresee further opportunities under the Abraham Accords for the normalization of security partnerships. The Israeli Government publicly endorsed the proposed sale, and some of you may have seen Israeli Ambassador Dermer and Emirati Ambassador Otaiba appearing jointly on cable news yesterday speaking to the benefits of these advanced defense capabilities to our shared security.
Iran seeks to impede the peaceful progress of normalization by any means and their threats put the UAE at a greater risk. The UAE reports an increasing number of cyber threats following their participation in the Abraham Accords. This is consistent with what we are seeing elsewhere as Iran attempts to undermine the UAE’s cyber security. Thus, it is only natural the Trump administration would carefully consider and expedite where practical certain advanced capabilities to deter threats, including to nearly 4,000 U.S. service members based in the UAE. Together we are committed to securing the success of the Abraham Accords.
And so at this point I would be happy to open up the call and take questions.
MR BROWN: Okay. First question, let’s go to the line of Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Just making sure you can hear me.
MR BROWN: Yeah, we got you, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, cool. Okay, so all of that support that you noted from Israel and from Ambassadors Dermer and Otaiba is – all that’s noted, but Congress is not exactly unanimous in its support for the F-35 and the drone deal to UAE, and in fact there’s a very good chance that this resolution of disapproval will pass. Now, it could probably be vetoed, and there might not be votes to override the veto, but my question is: These are members of Congress, elected representatives of the American people. So why is it that you guys think that this is so wonderful and that the – that it looks like a majority in Congress will vote to disapprove the sale? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: Yeah, thank you. No, we’ve been in – and as I mentioned at the top of the call, in deep consultation with both chambers of Congress. The assessment here, of course, is based on the evolving terrain. I mentioned the transformative nature of the accords. And the proposed sales specific to the UAE make them an even more capable and more interoperable partner for the United States. This is consistent with the United States longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge.
So from a regional aspect – and I mentioned the threat – there is a corollary here. When we have the corollary stability of these partners, of these states that have chosen to recognize each other – remember, it’s a foreign policy imperative of the United States to have states recognize Israel’s sovereignty as a member of the community of states. We want states to do that. Iran does not, and so when we look at the shared risk and the threats coming from and emanating from Tehran and Iranian proxies, it is incumbent upon the United States, it is – as well is incumbent upon those partners in the region to actually address their capabilities and be more interoperable with each other.
And finally, we continue to work with Congress. We definitely are continuing to address the concerns that they have raised and certainly want to make sure that they have a fulsome understanding as to the imperatives and the benefits of these sales.
MR BROWN: Great. Next question, let’s go to the line of Nick Wadhams, please.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much. There’s a lot of criticism in Congress about the idea that these sales are being pushed through very quickly. Some Democrats have said why not give it a little more time and let the president-elect do this. Do you have any indication that the UAE wanted to get this sale done before the election? And why not wait a little bit to give the incoming president his say on whether to allow these sales to go through?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: Yeah, so on timeline, there was not a predicated timeline. I mentioned earlier the diligence and then the expedience of these sales was in the wake of the Abraham Accords. Those accords could have been – had signed at a different date. If they were signed earlier, we would have been pursuing these cases earlier. If the accords had been signed later, we would be pursuing these cases later. So as you know, we abbreviated the tiered review process and started that formal notification on November 10th so that we could actually allow for the movement of these cases, all within statutory authority of the Department of State, and certainly inclusive of the consultation process with Congress.
But to your question about expediency – why now – we touched upon it a little earlier, which is that we do know that the risk calculus that has been addressed not only by us but also by Israel and the signature of the accords, it has been said in public fora from Iranian officials that just the act alone of signing the accords – just the sheer act of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty – has brought to bear further risk. It is incumbent upon us to address it.
At the same time, we also had a partner, pre-accords, that had certainly had shown itself very capable of working with us and also being a interoperable and partner that we could count on. They have proved themselves – they being the United Arab Emirates – have proved themselves over and over again.
So moving forward in that onward trajectory of not only our bilateral security cooperation relationship but also from a regional context, yes, the need to apply diligence and expedience certainly was answering the conditions that we were meeting.
MR BROWN: Okay. Next question. Let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My question concerns Iraq and the trip of the Iraqi foreign minister to Moscow late last month. And afterward, the Iraqi officials said that Iraq was looking to buy air defense equipment from Russia. So a two-part question: Are the Iraqis unable to buy U.S. equipment? And if they do buy Russian equipment, what’s your view of that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: So I would – I’ll open up the aperture or the scope on that question, because it’s a good one, and it’s a timely one when one looks at the global arms transfer parameters. So CAATSA – the statute is a tool that’s available. It’s one that is certainly applicable. It is one that is cited with all of our partners, regardless if it’s Iraq or any other partner that we work with, that having a significant materiel or platforms or technology from Moscow or Beijing does not work. It does not match up with interoperability with U.S. platforms and U.S. security cooperation.
So from a tactical standpoint, having that kind of introduction would certainly not be to the benefit of any partner – again, regardless of if it’s Iraq or anyone else. And then as I mentioned earlier, there is the statutory issue that we would be addressing regarding the risk of CAATSA sanctions.
MR BROWN: Okay. Next question. Let’s go to the line of Ali Harb.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. My question is about – I’d like to ask you to address some of the specific criticism from Congress members, specifically Senator Murphy, when he talks about the arms deals effects on some of the humanitarian crises in the region where the UAE is active, particularly Yemen and Libya. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: Yeah, no, and this conversation is not limited to just one member. I mean, obviously it’s an ongoing consideration. When we look at the President’s Conventional Arms Transfer authority, if we go back to 2018, President Trump directed a review of that authority and an expansion of consideration of mitigating civilian casualties as well as mitigating any human rights violations. So the United States definitely takes these obligations seriously. We engage with all of our allies and partners when and where reports of any unauthorized use, applications, or transfers are alleged to occur. And that certainly is something that is not only part of our normal process, it’s actually been amplified in President Trump’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.
We are committed to protecting civilians. I know in this particular question you were referencing Yemeni civilians, and we certainly have done work there to protect them from explosive remnants of war. That is a whole other program line. It’s worth mentioning that in that side of the portfolio, we’ve committed about $24 to $25 million to keep Yemeni civilians safe from UXO, or unexploded ordnance.
MR BROWN: Next, let’s go to the line of Jerad Szuba.
QUESTION: Hi, sir. Thanks for doing this. You mentioned Congress should act to increase the UAE’s deterrence. How exactly does the F-35 increase the UAE’s deterrence against Iran and its aging air force and the S-300? And is that – does the bureau assess that there is a favorable tradeoff between that and the security risk that providing the F-35 technology to a Gulf country would cause?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: So I’ll go back to something I had mentioned earlier about the UAE’s capability. They have already in their air force their F-16 fleet, which is extremely capable and interoperable. They have also shown where they’ve been able to perform their own measure of sustainment at a level that is on par with ours.
Why is that important to your question? Because when we’re looking at any significant arms transfer for a partner, is it not only the consideration of do they have a requirement – and we assess that they do; and I say we, the interagency, the United States Government assess that the requirement is there for the UAE – but do they also have the capability to actually man, operate, sustain, and also be able to just participate in a joint environment, be it training, be it exercises, or be it in the case an operation. This does matter when we’re looking at the transformation in the region.
Remember, the signing of the Abraham Accords, the significance of recognizing Israeli statehood, comes with a number of reciprocities that are soon to be realized, if not already in the implementation phase. This goes well beyond passport, visa reciprocity; this goes well beyond long-distance telecommunications. We are looking at a future where there are states that historically may not have not only not recognized Israeli statehood, but certainly may have been an adversary, and now are a partner. So we certainly are looking at it from a regional frame of the ability to have capable partners that are interoperable with the United States as well as with each other.
MR BROWN: Let’s go to the line of Mike Stone, please.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I have two questions. The first one’s quick; the second one is not as much. I’ll ask them at the same time. Why have recent violations by UAE – why have those not been disqualifying after the first one? I’m talking about end use. And second, are all aspects of the technical security arrangements, such as USAF aircraft or any understandings and commitments by UAE regarding the security risks inherent in its growing relationship with Russia and China – were those decided, resolved and included in the LOA negotiations or are they can be punted to the next administration? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: I’ll start. I’ll go backwards on the question, Mike. So the first thing, we’re not punting anything from one administration to another. If anything, the heavy work that’s been done on building these cases has been done during the Trump administration, and the intent to move out with this diligence is that we are able to have that work done. To your question about what’s identified in the LOAs, I’m not going to reveal where we are in the deliberative process. But what I could point to you and to those who actually are familiar with how letters of offer and acceptance are developed and how assurances are secured, there are going to be some recognizable steps there regarding protection of technology, of tech security, access, placement, and the ability to make sure that there are measures in place.
Much of that would be recognizable if one looks at similar platforms. So there’s already a consortium of the F-35. One can imagine that where there are particular parameters and protections in that consortium, they would be applicable. They’re going to be applicable globally, and then there’s going to be some elements that are going to be unique or bespoke to a particular partner. So that I can say.
And then to your question about – on end use, as I said, we expect all of the recipients of U.S. equipment, of defense equipment, to abide by terms of the letters of offer and acceptance, which again goes back to not just end-use, but also the protection of the technology and making sure that the equipment is not transferred, at least without our awareness or clearance, to third parties without our authorization. The issue that you asked is certainly something that we have worked on and addressed and have been able to resolve and it was one of a defensive nature, not of an offensive nature. And that allowed us to be able to reconcile that investigation.
MR BROWN: Okay. Last person in the queue right now is Joel Gehrke, if you could open his line.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MR BROWN: Yeah, we got you Joel. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Just very briefly, I wondered if you think that the disapproval of this sale might – in Congress – might jeopardize the Abraham Accords. And then a little more broadly, I wondered do you have any assessment of whether the F-35 sale to the UAE would increase the likelihood that Turkey – there’s been a lot of tension between Turkey and the UAE lately, but Turkey would pursue fifth generation jets from Russia or China? And likewise, do you have any concern that if this deal is blocked or aborted the UAE might look to those same countries for analogous capabilities?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: So I’ll start with the preferred partner or the partner of choice. And we remain so. So today, we’re talking about partners that have significant investments to the United States and have significant security arrangements with the United States. Turkey is a member of the NATO Alliance. They are a member state, and while we had to remove them for now from the F-35 program because of their acquisition or their procurement of the S-400, it doesn’t mean that they have left NATO, and it’s certainly incumbent upon the United States to work with Turkey to keep them in the West.
Now as to pursuit of Russian or Chinese materiel, I’ve already mentioned there are – CAATSA sanctions are very much a risk and they don’t have a time limit or a clock. The scope of CAATSA sanctions are varied, and those can be applied at any given time by any administration.
So I would offer from – states that we work with on arms transfers and security cooperation are acutely aware as to the need and the benefits of being interoperable with the United States. They also know that come – with the interoperability comes the full-package approach when it comes to sustainment, the full-package approach of transparency and accountability in our processes, especially if they have a parliamentary approval process, especially if they have to account for the large amount of funds that they may be spending on a platform. And they also know our stuff’s better. We build a better platform. So to put it colloquially, one could pursue rusty Russia or cheap China, but we are the preferred partner. And they know that, and it’s why we are we are sought after.
But to the question about the JRD, having that telegraphed does – could do several things. It would not disrupt the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords are much deeper. Again, the root, the foundation of those accords is recognizing Israel’s statehood and the sovereignty of the state. And again, it’s been a U.S. foreign policy priority for decades across administrations, and the Trump administration was able to get that to a point where we have states – not a state, but states – recognizing Israel’s statehood. So no, the accords are much bigger than a set of arms transfers, but a JRD or a series of JRDs would certainly send a message that would more likely bolster our adversaries than be supportive of our partners.
MR BROWN: Okay, it looks like we have another person in the queue. Could we open the line of Michel Ghandour.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. The UAE embassy just released a statement saying that the F-35 is the first defense line for the UAE and the United States, and they are insisting to – in getting the F-35. Do you agree with them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: I’ll give you a very short answer – yes – but I’ll give you a longer answer to that. I mean, this is this is why the United States has taken great care and diligence to actually build a number of these cases. I think for those of you who are watching closely when the cases entered informal tiered review when they entered formal notification to Congress a month ago, the F-35 cases entered about two weeks prior to the MQ-9 case. So they were the – it was the first case that we were able to work through in the interagency as far as being able to meet the requirement for the UAE and also address it from a regional context and certify that we were able to maintain Israel’s QME.
MR BROWN: Okay, last question. We’ll go to the line of Kristina Anderson.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. This is about the targeting working group. I’m wondering if you are working with the UAE, if the working group is working with UAE as a one of the allies and partners that we work with and with the targeting working group, or if you plan to work with them on any of the military sales and military equipment they have purchased from U.S. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER: And thank you for asking that question. Yeah, the targeting working group that we talked about last week when I was over at the Pentagon, the actual program piece, the programmatic piece, is ADTI. That’s the Advanced Targeting – Advanced Targeting Development Initiative, pardon me. Anyway, on that program, I mentioned – I think Friday I was talking about how there are 10 bilateral programs that had been set up. And again, they’re voluntary. You asked about the UAE. They’re one of the first two. So when we first were putting this out, they volunteered to be a part of that program. And again, this predates the cases that we’ve been talking about today as well.
MR BROWN: Great. Okay, thanks to Assistant Secretary Cooper for joining us today and briefing us all on the work that his bureau is doing, and to everyone who joined the call. This is the end and so the embargo is lifted. Everyone, I wish you all a good afternoon.