The role of Congress in arms transfer to the Middle East, 1976--1988

Date of Completion

January 1991


American Studies|History, Middle Eastern|Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations




The purpose of this study is to examine how domestic considerations affect the conduct of foreign policy of the United States. Taking the role of Congress in arms transfer to the Middle East as a case in point, the study identifies the major actors in the arms transfer policymaking process, examines the dynamic and fluid relationship between those actors, explores how Congress voted on arms transfer to moderate Arab countries, and also addresses the question of why members of congress voted the way they did on this issue.^ In arms transfer, there are many more actors that get involved in the policymaking process than the three institutional actors--executive, legislative, judicial--mentioned in the United States constitution. Arms transfer involves companies that make the arms to be transferred, and ethnic groups who have emotional ties to their countries of origin requesting the arms. Except for the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, Congress has not been an initiator in arms-transfer policymaking; its role has been confined to fine-tuning arms transfers rather than blocking, vetoing them. The executive branch is still in control of arms transfer policymaking.^ There are at least three types of arms transfer policy. The first is structural, in which arms deals are made on a routinely noncontroversial basis with cooperation between foreign countries buying the products, arms manufacturers, executive agencies concerned with arms transfer, and congressional committees foreseeing those transfers. The second type, emerges when a crisis on the international stage affects the national interests. The third type of arms transfer policy is strategic, and comes into play when a sale is controversial.^ The House and Senate have behaved differently on exporting arms to Arab countries. The House has been more opposed to such arms sales than the Senate. Congressional Middle East arms transfer policy can be seen as a continuum. At one end are liberal Jewish House members; the other end are conservative non-Jewish Republican senators. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.) ^