US Response to Saudi Wars & Human Rights Violations? $49 Bn. in new Arms Sales

By Thalif Deen | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – The West continues its strong political and military support to one of its longstanding allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia –- despite withering criticism of the kingdom’s battlefield excesses in the ongoing war in neighbouring Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition has been accused of using banned cluster bombs, bombing civilian targets and destroying hospitals – either by accident or by design—using weapons provided primarily by the US, UK and France.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week the armed conflict in Yemen continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, with at least 81 civilians reportedly killed and 109 injured in December.

As a result, the toll of civilian casualties, recorded between 26 March and 31 December 2015, are estimated at more than 8,000 people, including nearly 2,800 killed and more than 5,300 wounded.

But Western powers — which are quick to condemn and impose sanctions on countries accused of civilian killings– have refused to take any drastic action against Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The Saudi stranglehold is increasingly linked to a thriving multi-billion dollar arms market — with British, French and mostly American military suppliers providing sophisticated weapons, including state-of-the-art fighter planes, helicopters, missiles, battle tanks and electronic warfare systems.

The arms supplying countries, for obvious reasons, are unwilling to jeopardize their markets, specifically Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi arsenal alone includes Boeing F-15 fighter planes (US supplied), Tornado strike aircraft (UK), Aerospatiale Puma and Dauphin attack helicopters (French), Bell, Apache and Sikorsky helicopters (US), Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning Control System (US), Sidewinder, Sparrow and Stinger missiles (US) and Abrams and M60 battle tanks (US).

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Research Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that for years, the US government has documented Saudi human rights abuses in its own reports, including the State Department.

“Yet the United States continues to provide a largely open-ended weapons supply line to the Saudi government. It’s time for the US government to act in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and with its own laws and suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia,” she said.

She argued US weapons manufacturers’ profit motives for continuing massive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia should not drive US military and foreign policy.

“The US Defense Department may benefit in the short term by keeping some weapons supply lines open with foreign orders. But the risks to US military personnel and US interests should be given far greater weight in decision making,” said Goldring who also represents the Acronym Institute on conventional weapons and arms transfer issues, at the United Nations.

The current issue of Time magazine says Saudi Arabia continues to spend a bigger portion of its economy on defence than any other nation (11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) compared with 3.5 percent by the US).

“It burns through $6 billion a month to bomb Yemen, an ill-advised war that has come to define the abrupt change brought by King Salman since he assumed the throne a year ago,” said Time.

But future military spending is likely to falter due to a sharp decline in oil prices—dropping to less than $30 per barrel this week, down from $110 in early 2014.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2010-2014, the United Kingdom and the United States were Saudi Arabia’s top weapons suppliers.

The United Kingdom accounted for 36 percent of the Saudis’ weapons deliveries, just edging out the United States, which accounted for 35 percent of Saudi weapons imports. France was a distant third at 6 percent.

In an article in Counter Punch published last November, William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project the Center for International Policy and a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor, said the recent surge in US arms transfers to the Middle East is part of an unprecedented boom in major US arms sales that has been presided over by the administration of President Barack Obama.

“The majority of the Obama administration’s major arms sales have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list with over $49 billion in new agreements.”

“This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region, and given the Saudi regime’s use of U.S.-supplied weaponry in its military intervention in Yemen,” Hartung said.

He also pointed out that the Obama administration has made arms sales a central tool of its foreign policy, in part as a way of exerting military influence without having to put “boots on the ground” in large numbers, as the Bush administration did in Iraq—with disastrous consequences.

“The Obama administration’s push for more Mideast arms sales has been a bonanza for U.S. weapons contractors, who have made increased exports a primary goal as Pentagon spending levels off. Not only do foreign sales boost company profits, but they also help keep open production lines that would otherwise have to close due to declining orders from the Pentagon,” said Hartung.

For example, he pointed out, earlier this year it was reported that Boeing had concluded a deal to sell 40 F-18s to Kuwait, which will extend the life of the programme for another year or more beyond its current projected end date of early 2017.

Similarly, the General Dynamics M-1 tank has been surviving on a combination of Congressional add-ons and a deal for tanks and tank upgrades for Saudi Arabia.

“But it’s not just about money. U.S.-supplied arms are fueling conflict in the region. The most troubling recent sales is a deal in the works that would supply $1 billion or more in bombs and missiles for the Saudi Air Force, again for use in the Yemen war,” Hartung added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the Canadian capital of Ottawa last month demanding the cancellation of a hefty 10.5 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia which included light armoured military vehicles.

The contract, signed by the previous government, was described as one of the largest arms deals between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The protest was triggered by the execution of 47 prisoners, including a Shiite cleric, on terrorism charges.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who dismissed the protest, was quoted as saying: “What is done is done and the contract is not something that we’ll revisit.”

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Licensed from Inter Press Service

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “New air raids on Sanaa cost at least 25 lives”

4 Responses

  1. Obama’s (crocodile) tears over US gun control do not extend to the civilians of Yemen and other countries experiencing the ‘military humanism’ of US and UK foreign policy

  2. This is a manifestation of the power of the military-industrial complex warned by President Eisenhower in his farewell speech.

    DuPont manufactured 40% of the munitions used by the Allies in WW1 and saw its sales increase tenfold by the end of the war. They manufactured nylon used in parachutes in WW2. They held a controlling interest in General Motors until the U.S. Justice Department forced divestment under antitrust laws.

    Dow Chemical sold napalm used by the U.S. Defense Department in Korea and Vietnam and the defoliant Agent Orange employed against the Vietcong and made huge profits for its shareholders in the process.

    It is estimated 800,000 M-16 rifles manufactured by Colt Industries were left behind after the fall of Saigon in 1975

    General Dynamics built the F-111 fighter/bomber used in Vietnam and later the XM-1 Abrams battle tank deployed in Iraq.

    Boeing created the F-15 Eagle fighter/bomber in the 1970s that was sold in large numbers to both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel also received shipments of French Mirage and U.S.-built F-4 Phantom jets. Saudi Arabia got the AWACS air defense system from the U.S.

    America, NATO allies in Western Europe, and Russia are all financially dependent on the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East – just as they previously were in WW1 and WW2 and the Far East. It is estimated that the cost of armed conflict in the Middle East since 1991 has been 10 trillion dollars.

    Those arms manufacturers who had been termed the “merchants of death” by early commentators actually employ many thousands of American workers and create vast profits for shareholders. Without defense contractors like Northrup Grumman, Bell Helicopter, Raytheon, United Technologies, Fairchild, and others coupled with the vast market for their products in the Middle East – the U.S. would be in a worse economic position.

    Does the U.S. government or the defense contracting establishment have a compelling interest in seeing Middle East peace in far away places such as Yemen where there exists a corresponding economic benefit of billions of dollars in revenues from this war materiel and the diplomatic goodwill of allies such as Saudi Arabia?

    Where would the military-industrial complex be without the financial benefit of the wars of the preceding 100 years?

  3. It should also be pointed out that the very spurious naval blockade is responsible for staving million of children in Yemen. With no end in sight. And that the US and Saudi have not just bombed hospitals and destroyed Yemen’s only major port, but destroyed the main pediatric hospital as well.

    And also…

    By far the main beneficiaries of this campaign are not Yemen, which has been sliding into a civil war for years, and which has a whole area that’s agitating for independence, but is in fact extremist Sunni militant groups, primarily ISIS in Yemen.

    And if you think Clinton will be better than Obama, bear in mind that her campaign chairman owns a PR/Lobbying form that has military weapons manufacturers and Saudi Arabia as clients.

    So. Best of luck Yemen. And best of luck westerners that are attacked as part of blowback for Western war crimes in Yemen.

  4. All rather missing the point, isn’t it?

    It isn’t just that the US (and UK) arms industry makes a massive profit out of the Saudi’s insatiable need for Super Expensive Weapons That They Don’t Really Know How To Use.

    It’s much more than that: those weapons-sales are the chosen means of churning all those petro-dollars.

    As in: if the USA and the UK embargoed arms sales to Saudi Arabia then all those untold $billions of petro-dollars will simply pile up inside the vaults of the House of Saud, unspent and unused.

    Eventually someone would have to find *some* way of spending those petro-dollars on trinkets, otherwise the Saudis will simply end up sucking all the money out of the global economy.

    What better way to churn that money back into the global economy than to spend a cool $billion here on jets, and $billions there on tanks, and another few $billion on attack choppers.

    The West simply can’t stop selling that stuff to the Saudis, precisely because they can’t think of any other way of getting those petro-dollars back into circulation.

    It has nothing to do with balance-of-power, much less of power-projection. It is all to do with balance-of-trade.

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