New bill would trigger human rights probe of U.S. weapons buyers

New bill would trigger human rights probe of U.S. weapons buyers

Rep. Gregory Meeks is pictured.

Rep. Gregory Meeks joined Democrats in the House and Senate to introduce the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports Act of 2023 last week. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

With help from Lee Hudson and Daniel Lippman

Subscribe here | Email Alex | Email Matt

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat wants the U.S. to review the human rights record of “any country” seeking to use American-made weapons and services.

The standard should be that “we only give weapons to those who don’t violate human rights,” Rep. GREGORY MEEKS (D-N.Y.) told NatSec Daily in an interview.

To make that wish a reality, Meeks joined Democrats in the House and Senate to introduce the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports Act of 2023 last week (no Republicans have signed on). If passed and signed into law by President JOE BIDEN, the measure would “enhance the consideration of human rights in arms exports” by, in part, expanding the “Leahy Law” and codifying elements of the Biden administration’s new conventional arms transfer policy.

The key provision is this: Defense articles can be sent to another nation only if they are “unlikely to contribute to human rights abuses.” Others include the prohibition of transfers to countries that the secretary of State “determines has committed, or is committing, genocide or war crimes” and a legal requirement to see “the return of any defense articles sold, exported, or transferred” that violated international humanitarian and international human rights law.

It’s a complicated issue, as some U.S. allies and partners have used American weapons to kill or wound civilians or destroy aid projects for people in need. That could, of course, harm relationships that the Biden administration deems important for its national security objectives.

The bill has a higher chance of passing in the Dem-led Senate than the GOP-helmed House. There are Republicans in the upper chamber who have voted to restrict arms sales to human rights-abusing states, but Democrats have a steeper climb in the lower chamber.

“If this is where the country is, let’s just hand the keys over to China,” a Republican congressional aide, granted anonymity to discuss internal GOP considerations of the measure, told NatSec Daily.

Meeks said he didn’t have a specific country in mind when introducing the bill. But he did say “any country would be subject to whether or not humanitarian violations were taking place” with American-sold weapons. “It’s always the right time to do the right thing.”

“We’re not China or Russia, who will give weapons to anybody, irrespective of humanitarian concerns,” the ranking member continued.

Meeks said Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) was currently in talks with Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER about the bill’s future, while the HFAC ranking member has yet to engage Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY on the issue.

A message from Lockheed Martin:

Enabling a world of unlimited possibility and 21st century security.

Lockheed Martin employees and customers are bound by a common cause. Ennobled by our shared patriotism, we will do all that is necessary to protect American and allied interests. Together, we will strengthen deterrence and help ensure mission readiness today. Learn more.

The Inbox

SPY BALLOON SPIED: The Chinese spy balloon that floated across the U.S. last month successfully gathered intelligence from several sensitive military sites and transmitted the info to Beijing, NBC News’ COURTNEY KUBE and CAROL LEE report.

The balloon’s operators were able to fly the aircraft over the sites multiple times, according to two current senior U.S. officials and one former senior administration official who spoke to NBC. The intelligence collected was mostly from electronic signals, which could include those from weapons systems or communication between people on the bases.

The Biden administration’s efforts to stop the balloon weren’t entirely futile, the officials said, as Beijing would’ve been able to gather much more information had the U.S. not jammed the electronic signals.

A House Democrat lawmaker told NatSec Daily “once we announced we knew about the balloon, it basically shut down collection,” adding: “It definitely was collecting and relaying SIGINT before it turned off, but we were told it didn’t collect anything sensitive and that the military sites were protected.” The lawmaker and others were granted anonymity to speak candidly about intelligence.

Our own ERIN BANCO reports, citing a U.S. official and person familiar with the situation, that the balloon did in fact collect intelligence on military sites, but the payload of the intelligence that was transmitted didn’t appear to be more than what would be transmitted via satellite technology.

NSC spokesperson JOHN KIRBY wouldn’t confirm reports of the intercepts in a Monday call with journalists.

OIL CUT: OPEC+, the Saudi-led group of oil giants, announced a surprise production cut on Sunday, slashing output by more than a million barrels a day beginning next month.

The group had previously lowered oil produced by two million barrels a day in October. Between the two cuts, the world’s oil production has been reduced by about 3 percent in the past seven months, The Wall Street Journal’s BENOIT FAUCON and SUMMER SAID report.

The cut angered the United States, which has sought to weaken Russia’s economy amid its war in Ukraine by imposing sanctions on the country’s oil. The Saudi-led move, however, is expected to cause oil prices to rise worldwide, creating more tension between Washington and Riyadh.

RUSSIA POINTS FINGERS: Moscow blamed Kyiv on Monday for allegedly coordinating a bombing that killed a prominent pro-Russian military blogger over the weekend.

While leading a discussion at a cafe on Sunday, VLADLEN TATARSKY was killed when a woman handed the blogger a bust of himself, which investigators believe had a bomb inside, the Associated Press reports. Russian officials called out Ukrainian officials for the “terrorist act,” a charge Kyiv denied.

The ongoing fighting comes as Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY and his wife OLENA ZELENSKA plan a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday to speak with Polish leaders about the war and ongoing support for Ukraine’s efforts.

IT’S MONDAY: Thanks for tuning in to NatSec Daily. This space is reserved for the top U.S. and foreign officials, the lawmakers, the lobbyists, the experts and the people like you who care about how the natsec sausage gets made. Aim your tips and comments at [email protected] and [email protected], and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @mattberg33.

While you’re at it, follow the rest of POLITICO’s national security team: @nahaltoosi, @PhelimKine, @laraseligman, @connorobrienNH, @paulmcleary, @leehudson, @magmill95, @johnnysaks130, @ErinBanco and @Lawrence_Ukenye.

Advertisement ImagePin


NIKKI AT THE BORDER: During a trip to the Mexican border on Monday, GOP presidential candidate NIKKI HALEY called President JOE BIDEN’s handling of the border crisis a “total dereliction of duty.”

“The idea that he is saying this isn’t a crisis is … irresponsible,” Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a video, urging Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS to visit the border. Biden last visited in January, while Mayorkas made a trip less than two weeks ago.

“The reality is the president’s job … is to make sure that people are safe, to make sure their property is safe,” she said.

Haley’s trip coincides with mounting hostilities between her campaign team and former Vice President MIKE PENCE’s staff as he teases a run at the presidency, our own ADAM WREN and NATALIE ALLISON report. While both candidates poll in the single digits behind DONALD TRUMP and Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS, Pence’s team is fed up with Haley’s team receiving more favorable media coverage than him, as they believe.

HUTCHINSON’S IN: Former Arkansas Gov. ASA HUTCHINSON announced his intention to run for president on the GOP ticket on Sunday.

“Whenever you look at how we’re going to be on the world stage and who’s going to lead us, it needs to be somebody different from President Biden and his policies,” Hutchinson told ABC News’ JONATHAN KARL on Sunday.

Need a refresher on the newest GOP candidate’s foreign policy positions? Read Alex’s piece from last week on the governor’s views.

‘KEEP ON FIGHTING’: Hungarian Prime Minister VIKTOR ORBÁN tweeted his support for former President DONALD TRUMP following the 2024 Republican frontrunner’s indictment. “Keep on fighting, Mr. President! We are with you,” he wrote.

NEW PRODUCT UPDATE – POLITICO’s China Watcher now hits inboxes twice weekly (Tuesday & Thursday). POLITICO’s EU-China Correspondent Stuart Lau will be writing this expanded newsletter together with our colleague Phelim Kine from across the Atlantic in Washington. We’re living in a world where geopolitics are shaped and reshaped in Brussels, Washington, and Beijing — China Watcher will attempt to decode these global relationships to give our readers a full picture of the world’s diplomatic relations with China. Sign up to China Watcher


SNUBBED CYBERATTACK: While hackers (likely) from North Korea almost performed a SolarWinds-sized cyberattack, per recent reports, it was easy to miss as security companies foiled the plan, our friends at Weekly Cybersecurity report.

Pyongyang’s attempt to slink into the software delivery pipeline of a widely used enterprise communications firm named 3CX hasn’t gotten much attention within the Beltway because private sector security companies largely nipped it in the bud.

While the now-foiled campaign offers some alarming signs that Pyongyang is moving up the hacker hierarchy by replicating Kremlin tradecraft, the incident also shows how far the defensive community has come since 2020, when Russian hackers rode the supply chain’s secretive back alley en route to a nine-month jaunt through some nine federal agencies and 100 private companies.

The Complex

DOJ INDICTMENT: Three former executives of Austal USA, the builder of the Navy’s littoral combat ship, were indicted by the Department of Justice on accounting fraud charges. The company responds saying it has “invested significant time and resources to strengthen its compliance program” our own LEE HUDSON writes.

CRAIG PERCIAVALLE, JOSEPH RUNKEL and WILLIAM ADAMS are all accused of misleading shareholders and investors, DOJ announced Friday. They are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of wire fraud affecting a financial institution.

The three “engaged in a scheme to artificially reduce the cost estimates to complete certain shipbuilding projects for the U.S. Navy by tens of millions of dollars,” according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Austal USA tells Lee a review of its compliance programs and practices is ongoing to ensure the company conducts business with the highest level of integrity. POLITICO was unable to reach the three former executives to ask for comment. The AP reported Saturday that “court records were not immediately available to show if the men had attorneys to comment on their behalf.”

FOUR NEW SITES: The Pentagon announced four new sites to expand the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Arrangement between the U.S. and Philippines. They are: Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan; Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela; Balabac Island in Palawan; and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan.

On the Hill

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– GROUPS BACK MURPHY/LEE ON SAUDI: A Senate effort that could block arms sales to Saudi Arabia is receiving support from 53 human rights and other interest groups Monday, per a statement we first obtained.

The resolution, introduced by Sens. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) and MIKE LEE (R-Utah), would force the administration to deliver a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and war on Yemen within 30 days. Should President JOE BIDEN’s team not do that, security assistance automatically stops.

Center for Civilians in Conflict, Human Rights Watch, the Project on Middle East Democracy and others write that invoking Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 for the first time ever “fills a critical gap in current oversight mechanisms.”

It remains unclear if the bipartisan play will receive enough support if and when it comes up for a vote.

A message from Lockheed Martin:

Enabling a world of unlimited possibility and 21st century security.

Lockheed Martin is helping you outpace evolving threats by accelerating our digital transformation. That means simulating wear-and-tear with digital twins so you can anticipate maintenance and reduce downtime. It means deep knowledge of your missions. It means industry-wide experience and next-gen technologies. We do it all to help you prevent and deter emerging threats sooner and faster than ever. Learn more.


BON CHANCE: French President EMMANUEL MACRON is set for a visit to Beijing Tuesday to woo Chinese leader XI JINPING away from Russia. The Biden administration is skeptical that he will succeed.

“The White House has little expectation that Macron will achieve a breakthrough, according to three administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. Xi is unlikely to act on Macron’s requests or curtail any of China’s assertive moves in the Pacific, the officials said,” our own CLEA CAULCUTT, STUART LAU and JONATHAN LEMIRE report.

1600 Penn is concerned Macron may try to insert himself as the West’s peacemaker with China, just like he tried to do with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN ahead of the war in Ukraine. And while White House officials are fine with the trip, they worry about France getting a bit too cozy with China as the U.S. aims to rally the West to counter Beijing in myriad arenas.


JOE GOULD will be joining POLITICO as the new anchor of Morning Defense (for Pros!). He comes to us from Defense News, where he was the senior Pentagon reporter. Welcome aboard!

JACLYN ROTHENBERG started on Monday as a senior adviser for communications in the office of domestic climate policy at the White House, DANIEL LIPPMAN has learned. She is on detail from DHS at FEMA where she has been director of public affairs.

ADAM RIDDLE has been appointed as new defense president and chair and CEO of Rolls-Royce North America.

What to Read

— MAX BOOT, The Washington Post: Netanyahu is doing lasting damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship

— BEN NOON, Foreign Policy: Biden Needs to Broaden Semiconductor Sanctions on China

— PETER DORAN and JOHN HARDIE, Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Ruble Rumble: Offensive and Defensive Measures to Defeat Russia in the Economic Domain

Tomorrow Today

— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: Beyond America’s Coastline

— The Middle East Institute, 11 a.m.: Building a New Yemen

— The Center for a New American Security, 1:30 p.m.: Peninsula Plus: Enhancing U.S.-South Korea Cooperation on China, Multilateralism, and Military and Security Technologies (featuring Alex!)

— The Cato Institute, 4 p.m.: Cut the Budget, Change the Strategy

Thanks to our editor, Heidi Vogt, who says it’s too late to do the right thing and fire us.

We also thank our producer, Gregory Svirnovskiy, who is always right.

JOIN POLITICO ON 4/5 FOR THE 2023 RECAST POWER LIST: America’s demographics and power dynamics are changing — and POLITICO is recasting how it covers the intersection of race, identity, politics and policy. Join us for a conversation on the themes of the 2023 Recast Power List that will examine America’s decision-making tables, who gets to sit at them, and the challenges that still need to be addressed. REGISTER HERE.

( Information from was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Share to...