Congress will decide if deal first struck by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in April should go through.
Selling weapons used to be a cut-throat business. With a no-questions-asked policy, it has led in the past, to the selling of weapons to support African conflicts, leaving Angola, Somalia, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic Congo awash with AK-47 semi-automatic rifles and very little else.
Today’s high-tech weapons manufacturers are enjoying record sales. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year. One of the more controversial is the Defense Department’s plans to sell Saudi Arabia $6.8 billion and the United Arab Emirates $4 billion in advanced weaponry, including air-launched cruise missiles and precision munitions. The trouble is – has anyone asked where these weapons will ultimately end up?
This historic deal will be the first U.S sales of new Raytheon and Boeing weapons that can be launched at a distance from Saudi F-15 and U.A.E. F-16 fighters. But this is just part of Saudi Arabia’s military shopping list.
The Saudi Kingdom is also purchasing the Boeing Expanded-Response Standoff Land Attack Missile and Raytheon Joint Standoff Weapon, which can strike at air defense sites and radar installations from beyond the range of enemy air-defense systems. The Royal Saudi Navy is acquiring Boeing missiles, a derivative of the Harpoon anti-ship missile that can be launched more than 135 nautical miles from a target and be redirected in flight. With such a big order should the U.S question the need for this military arsenal?
This deal was first struck by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel back in April and later this month Congress will decide whether this deal should be approved. With Congress’ concern for job creation and security, thus far there has been little debate about the ethics of the arms sales and whether the country that buys weapons should be able to sell them to other countries struggling with conflict.
The U.S. sells to Saudi Arabia, but who buys Saudi weapons?
Saudi Arabia was the world’s 10th-largest weapons importer in 2008-2012, and that is expected to change by 2017, where they will be in the top five if outstanding orders are completed. With this increase fire-power some commentators are nervously looking at Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Syrian civil war and also its strained relations with Iran.
Over the summer, Saudi Arabia began funneling guns into Jordan, as well as conducting military training, where there are being used by Saudi-led armed rebel groups who cross the border into southern Syria. Jordan’s role as a conduit for Saudi arms has had an adverse effect on its population. The increased amount of guns circulating in Jordan is contributing to more conflicts within Jordan’s refugee camps and regions.
Taking full advantage of the tension, Syria rebels are moving in to recruit. Syrian rebels forces are using the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan to recruit fighters. The rebel training camps have put the Jordanian and UN officials running the camp in a delicate position. Wary of further increasing tensions with the government in Syria, Jordan has sought to keep its support of rebels under the radar, officially denying that any training of anti-Assad fighters takes place on its soil, though both Jordanian and U.S. officials have acknowledged it.
The influence of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East political landscape is considerable. It has assisted in overthrowing Egyptian Prime Minister Morsi, and is currently providing training to the interim military government. With the world already nervous of the unknown outcome of both the Syrian and Egyptian conflicts, should the U.S really be finalizing a $10.8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia?
Does the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty work?
The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty has been pushing for more transparency and greater accountability of arms sales by governments. Secretary of State John Kerry defied Congress’ objections and signed the treaty in New York.
The treaty establishes standards for the global trade in conventional weapons, with the goal of preventing such weapons from being sold to those who would use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Despite the good intentions of this treaty, the U.S continues to provide weapons to Syria and Iraq.
Since 2006, Iraq has fallen into social and economic disarray, where al-Qaida forces are dominating certain regions.
Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, spoke at the Senate committee hearing on terrorism threats to the U.S. He warned of the growing threat that al-Qaida in Iraq poses, pointing out an increase in the pace of attacks this year.
“The group is exploiting increasingly permissive security environments in Iraq to fundraise, plan and train for attacks,” Olsen said
Yet the Pentagon is looking to secure a military stronghold to contain Syria’s civil war by using Iraq as a base. It proposed to send $2.7 billion in weapons to Iraq, despite the country being on the verge of civil war.
“This capability will provide Iraq with the ability to contribute to regional air defenses and reduce its vulnerability to air attacks and also enhance interoperability between the government of Iraq, the US, and other allies,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Human Rights advocates are pushing for more stringent controls on sale of arms but also for the U.S to abide by it on laws of trading with countries who practice human rights abuses or genocide.
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor cites this about India: “The most significant human rights problems were police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape; widespread corruption at all levels of government; and separatist, insurgent, and societal violence. Other human rights problems included disappearances, poor prison conditions that were frequently life threatening, arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention.”
But the U.S is nevertheless allowing arms sales to India. As the law stands, U.S arms exporters don’t have to follow the State Department’s human rights assessment. Instead, companies can opt to use “Leahy Law,” named for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which passed in 1997 and prohibits U.S. assistance to specific military and police units deemed responsible for human rights abuses.
Yet this law only covers direct government-to-government direct sales overseen by the Pentagon, and allows non-defense department commercial export sales approved by the State Department. So this year the Defense Department sold $34.8 billion in direct government-to-government sales are covered by the Leahy Law, but $44.28 billion in sales authorized by State are not.
Adotei Akwei, director of Amnesty International’s government relations efforts, said: “In all of these countries, there’s a need for a much more rigorous process for looking at where these weapons are going and how they’re being used. Even though the U.S State Department identifies problems, we still see these sales taking place over and over again. There’s a much-exemplified disconnect between the identifying of abuse and the sales.”