Review of the Department of State’s Role in Arms Transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

    Report Contents

    Summary of Review1
    In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State's (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary's May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).2 The Secretary's emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs)6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.­ supplied PGMs.

    For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary's May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department's implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress.8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term "emergency." Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary's May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

    OIG determined that the Secretary's emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PG Ms included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law.

    OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.


    1 The Department has applied redactions to certain text in the version of OIG's report that will be made available to the public. Each redaction is annotated to specify the basis on which the Department requested the information be withheld.

    2 Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2776 (2018).

    3 Federal Register, Vol. 84, No. 142, Arms Sales Notification, July 24, 2019.

    4 The emergency certification included a single arms re-transfer case involving Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Jordan was not included in the scope of OIG's review because Congress did not consistently place holds on arms transfers to the country prior to the May 2019 emergency certification.

    5 The Department generally will not formally notify an arms transfer if a member of Congress raises significant concern by placing a hold during the informal notification stage. The Department is not, however, precluded from approving a transfer if the Department has provided formal notification to Congress and the period of advance notification specified in the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) has elapsed.

    6 The Department of Defense's DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines a precision-guided munition as a guided weapon intended to destroy a point target and minimize collateral damage. This includes airand ship-launched missiles, multiple launched rockets, and guided bombs. Precision-guided munitions typically use the global positioning system, laser guidance, or inertial navigation systems to improve the weapon's accuracy.

    7 The Saudi-led Coalition is composed of 11 member states supporting Yemen's internationally recognized government. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the most active participants. Other members include Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, and Sudan.

    8 The Department is required by sections 36(b)(l), 36(c)(l), and 36(d)(l) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) to notify congressional committees of jurisdiction of its intent to proceed with certain, notifiable transfers.

    9 The Department indicated during its review of this report that it disagreed that such actions were required. The Department's response and OIG' s reply appear in appendices Band C of this report, as well as in the classified annex to this report.

    10 OIG, Classified Annex to Review of the Department of State's Role in Arms Transfer to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (ISP-S-20-19A).