Code of Conduct -- U.S. Legislative History

Action in 106th Congress | Action in 105th Congress | Action in 104th Congress

Arms Transfer Code of Conduct: Action in the 106th Congress

The U.S. Code of Conduct was introduced in the House by Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) as a stand-alone bill  (H.R. 2269) on June 17, 1999, with sixty-five original co-sponsors. No similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Passage of the “International Code of Conduct”

In November 1999, Congress passed into law the “International Arms Sales Code of Conduct Act of 1999.”  [1]  Passage of the law was the result of a compromise between Representatives Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), original sponsor of the U.S. Code of Conduct and Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), a ranking Democrat who favors a multilateral approach to arms control. Passage of the law does not create a unilateral U.S. Code of Conduct, but it does represent a significant step towards that goal.

The main operative provision of this law is to require the President to begin negotiations on an international regime “to promote global transparency with respect to arms transfers…. and to limit, restrict, or prohibit arms transfers to countries that do not observe certain fundamental values of human liberty, peace, and international stability.” The criteria to be used in the negotiations process include some of the classic Code of Conduct eligibility requirements – states must be democratic, respect human rights, and not be engaged in acts of armed aggression – plus criteria that were added to accommodate other members of Congress: states must not support terrorism or contribute to nuclear arms proliferation, and arms transfers must not contribute to regional arms races or instability.  The law does not specify where such negotiations must take place, though they must begin within 120 days of enactment of the law. 

The International Code also requires the U.S. State Department – in its annual report to Congress on Human Rights – to evaluate the extent to which states meet the Code criteria. This evaluation will help Congress see which states receiving U.S. arms would not meet these standards if an international - or U.S. - Code were to be established. Finally, the International Code of Conduct represents congressional endorsement of the Code of Conduct principles and of the need to restrict arms transfers from the US and its allies. It establishes detailed criteria for determining eligibility for arms transfers, and these criteria place heavy emphasis on a state’s respect for human rights and democracy, as well as its contribution to international peace and security. Again, this is only the first step towards a U.S. Code, but one which the arms control and human rights community intends to build upon in the coming year.


[1] The Act was part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY 2000 and 2001, which in turn, was amended to the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2000.

Arms Transfer Code of Conduct: Action in the 105th Congress

This bill had great success in the first session of the 105th Congress: it was included by the House of Representatives as part of the State Department authorization act.

On 10 June 1997, the House of Representatives unanimously accepted the Code as an amendment to HR 1757--the FY 1998-99 State Department authorization act. Click here to read the amendment and statements made in support of it. No member spoke against it.

The Senate did not include the Code in its version of the bill, so the language needed to be accepted by the House-Senate conference committee appointed to reconcile differences between the two chambers' bills. These meetings started at the end of July, but did not complete a final version of the State Department authorization act before Congress adjourned in November. A number of contentious issues unrelated to the Code stalled negotiations. This committee reconvened to finish its business late in the evening of 10 March. There, in highly irregular fashion, Republicans from the House and Senate agreed to a conference report which did not include the Code.

Late in the summer of 1998, Representative Sam Gedjensen (D-CT) introduced a "multilateral code of conduct" which imitated the language in the McKinney/Rohrabacher calling for U.S. participation in efforts to establish a multilateral code of conduct on arms transfers, but did nothing to restrain current U.S. exports or military aid. Code of Conduct supporters dubbed this proposal the "faux Code," and Oscar Arias, a leader of the campaign for an international Code of Conduct, and Rep. McKinney wrote letters to Gejdensen asking him to reconsider. These letters and the work of grassroots activists kept the multilateral-only code from being voted on under suspension of the rules.

In the Senate, John Kerry (D-MA), along with fourteen cosponsors, continues to build support for S. 1067, The Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers Act of 1997.

The European Union passed its own version of an arms transfer Code of Conduct in June 1998. Saferworld, a British NGO, has material online about the European Code, as does the British American Security Information Council.

Arms Transfer Code of Conduct: Action in the 104th Congress

House Action

Senate Action

On 23 May 1996, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing (published as S.Hrg. 104-222) on the Code of Conduct. Testifying on behalf of the Clinton Administration were Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Lynn Davis, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights John Shattuck, and the Director of the Defense Security Assistance Agency Lt. Gen. Thomas Rhame. While all of the administration witnesses expressed support for the Code of Conduct bill's four criteria, they opposed making these conditions U.S. law.

A non-governmental panel testified in support of the Code, including Lawrence J. Korb (a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration), William D. Hartung (Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute and author of And Weapons for All), Holly J. Burkhalter (Washington Director of Human Rights Watch), and Lora Lumpe (founder and former Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project). Click here for Lora Lumpe's testimony before the Senate Special Hearing on Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, 23 May 1995.

On 25 July, 1996, Sen. Byron Dorgan offered the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers as an amendment to the fiscal year 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations (H.R.3540). One hour was alotted for debating the measure. Several Senators spoke in support, including Sen. Dorgan, Hatfield, Kerry, Feinstein, Pell, Kassebaum, and Jeffords. Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke against it, and Sen. Kit Bond offered a motion to table (kill) the Code amendment. Click here to see the debate and vote (in sum, Sen. Bond's amendment won by a vote of 65-35).


Last Updated: 6 December 1999. 

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