Despite a sluggish global economy and spending cuts for key defense powers, the export market is doing well, deal approval time is falling, and the Department of State has taken an unprecedented position of authority on national security issues, a senior agency official said Nov. 28.
In something of a state of the union address, Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, described increases in both direct commercial sales and foreign military sales (FMS) to a meeting of the Defense Trade Advisory Group.
“The growth of the U.S. defense trade has been truly remarkable,” Shapiro said. “Despite the tough global economy over the last four years, demand for U.S. defense sales abroad remains robust. There has been significant growth both in direct commercial sales and in foreign military sales.”
Shapiro said that direct commercial sale license requests were up roughly 3 percent thus far in 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, and that the agency anticipates a total of 85,000 requests this year, which would be a record.
Shapiro also said that Congress was notified of $62 billion in potential FMS deals thus far in 2012.
Those sales are critical to national security, Shapiro said.
“If countries view the United States unfavorably, they will be less willing to cooperate on security matters,” he said. “This is why the current U.S. administration has sought to revitalize U.S. diplomatic engagement, especially relating to security assistance and defense trade.”
While the approval process for sales has been the source of much criticism in the past, viewed as cumbersome and potentially costing U.S. companies opportunities, Shapiro said that approval time has been cut considerably under his watch.
Part of the improvement has been a better internal process, while early congressional notification has yielded some of the most dramatic results. Congressional staff review time has been cut by 35 percent for direct commercial sales and 40 percent for FMS deals, Shapiro said.
Efforts to reduce review time have been met with resistance from the Senate, which has oversight of foreign military sales.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R. Ind., was one of the more vocal critics accusing the Obama administration in an April Washington Times editorial of seeking “power to ram through weapons transfers without fully answering congressional questions and concerns.”
Shapiro said that a reformed system is working, while still allowing proper review.
“Nothing about Congress and the administration’s legal authority has changed under the reformed new system,” he said. “Under the new process, if a committee staffer thinks that an arms sale should be delayed, that staffer must escalate that concern to their representative or senator to convey to the [State] Department. The department has a strong history of being responsive to member concerns, and this will not change.”
Emphasizing his pleasure with the three and a half years he has helmed the political-military affairs office, Shapiro said that the agency has increased its role in national security decision making.
“The collaboration between State and DoD is truly unprecedented,” Shapiro said. And the collaboration is allowing the State Department “to provide important diplomatic insight into the Pentagon’s planning process.”
State has also reclaimed responsibility in several areas, Shapiro said.
“Through the work of PM’s Policy and Plans Office, the State Department has reasserted its authority over security assistance and has developed innovative mechanisms to respond to today’s urgent national security priorities,” he said.
The net effect is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vision of an improved agency has come to fruition, Shapiro said.
“One of the major points of emphasis for the secretary when she came to office was the need for an integrated approach to foreign policy — one that would leverage all the tools at our disposal,” he said. “The Political-Military Affairs Bureau has played a fundamental role in turning the Secretary’s vision of ‘smart power’ into reality. The collaboration between State and DoD is truly unprecedented.”