Saudi Arabia Arms Deal Should Be Halted

| by Mark Jones
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

On  Aug. 8, the Obama Administration notified Congress of an approved arms deal with Saudi Arabia. But the country’s history of violating human rights and recent involvement in Yemeni conflict justify Sens. Rand Paul and Chris Murphy wanting to end the deal.

The deal would allow the sale of 130 Abrams tanks, 20 more armed battle vehicles, machine guns and other military equipment, reports Foreign Policy magazine.

In other words, a country described by Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, as “an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record” would acquire $1.15 billion worth of additional dangerous military equipment.

“I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a vote on blocking this sale,” said Paul in a statement to Foreign Policy.

Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen gives Americans the greatest reason to take caution in war-related negotiations with Riyadh.

For more than a year, Saudi Arabia has intervened in Yemen’s civil war with support from the U.S.  Defense News reports that 6,000 Yemeni people have been killed since Saudi Arabia’s intervention. Half of these deaths have been civilians.

Additionally, almost 1,100 children have been killed since fighting began.

On Aug. 9, one day after the Obama Administration announced the deal was going ahead, Saudi Arabia bombed a potato processing factory in Yemen’s capital.  According to The Guardian, the attack killed 14 civilians, most of whom were women.

By supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons to carry out such attacks, the U.S. plays a role in these killings.

Going through with another arms deal inevitably would lead to the American government having to accept the responsibility for more civilian deaths.

Paul’s Democratic colleague, Murphy of Connecticut, also strongly opposes the $1.15 billion deal.  In June, when Congress began serious discussions about the proposed sale, Murphy contested its soundness.

“If you talk to Yemeni Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn’t a Saudi bombing campaign, it’s a U.S. bombing campaign,” he said. 

The senator went on to point out, “Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the U.S. We accept that as a consequence of our participation.”

Murphy is correct. By supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons capable of killing Yemeni civilians, whether in airstrikes or on the ground, the U.S. plays a part in Middle Eastern conflict.

David McKeeby of the State Deparment’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs told Foreign Policy the arms deal is not meant to signify approval of Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen.

Rather, McKeeby said, “This proposed sale is aimed toward strengthening Saudi Arabia’s long-term defense capabilities.”

Regardless of the Obama Administration’s intentions, the U.S. must remain aware of the likely use of the weapons. As Murphy said, the U.S. has to assume responsibility for participation in global affairs.

Congress is on summer recess, meaning members have some time to think about the proposed deal before making a final decision.

For reasons related to human rights and politics, Congress should seek to halt arms deals with Saudi Arabia as soon as possible.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The Guardian (2, 3), Defense News, Foreign Policy / Photo credit: Wajahat Mahmood/Flickr

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