July 20, 2021 – CIVIC welcomes the introduction of the bipartisan National Security Powers Act of 2021 (NSPA) by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would instill much-needed congressional oversight over arms transfers and war powers.

Currently, blocking an arms transfer under the Arms Export Control Act requires a joint resolution of disapproval, which must be passed by a two-thirds majority in both chambers to overcome a likely presidential veto. Because of this exceptionally high threshold, it is extremely challenging for Congress to block a notified arms transfer. Indeed, even in cases of significant bipartisan opposition over human rights and civilian harm concerns, Congress has never successfully prevented a notified arms transfer through legislation.

“Arms sales are the most common way the United States involves itself in war,” said Annie Shiel, CIVIC’s Senior Advisor for the United States. “At a moment when we’re seeing US weapons devastate civilian communities caught in armed conflict, fuel human rights abuses around the world, and facilitate impunity for harm, it’s clear that Congress needs better tools to conduct real oversight and curb harmful arms transfers. This bipartisan legislation does that.” 

Modeled after legislation proposed by then-Senator Joe Biden in 1986, the NSPA would address existing oversight gaps by “flipping the script” with an affirmative vote, requiring Congress to affirmatively authorize foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of the most dangerous and destabilizing weapons. The NSPA would also eliminate the use of the emergency waiver for manufacturing or co-production of articles or services outside the United States. CIVIC welcomes these provisions, both of which we have recommended in past publications.


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