Home/Daniel Larison/A Very Belated Decision on Cluster Bombs and the Saudis

A Very Belated Decision on Cluster Bombs and the Saudis

John Hudson reports that the Obama administration is finally blocking the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia:

Frustrated by a growing death toll, the White House has quietly placed a hold on the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as the Sunni ally continues its bloody war on Shiite rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. It’s the first concrete step the United States has taken [bold mine-DL] to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children.

The decision to halt the transfer of these inherently indiscriminate weapons to the Saudis is of course a welcome one, but it is still inadequate and very late. As Hudson notes, this is the first time that the U.S. has taken any action to slow the supply of weapons to the Saudis since the intervention in Yemen began fourteen months ago. This decision doesn’t affect the sale and delivery of other munitions that the Saudis will use on Yemen in the future, and it may not even apply to a new shipment of cluster bombs:

It remains unclear if the Obama administration’s hold will affect a tranche of cluster bombs poised for shipment to Saudi Arabia, or simply all future requests. The United States concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2013. The final shipment of such weapons can take years to complete, but U.S. officials have repeatedly refused to clarify if the order’s final tranche was delivered.

Because cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate and pose a particularly grave threat to civilians, the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in their sale or use in the first place, but it certainly shouldn’t be providing other governments with these weapons when we know that they are using them in civilian areas. There have been credible reports of the Saudi use of cluster bombs in civilian areas for more than a year, so the administration’s action is inexcusably tardy.

The fact that it has taken the administration more than a year of indiscriminate coalition attacks on civilian areas to take even this first step shows how thoroughly the U.S. has been enabling the Saudi-led war on Yemen. For the most part, the U.S. is still enabling that war. We shouldn’t let this small bit of good news make us forget that the U.S. still provides weapons, fuel, and intelligence to assist the Saudis and their allies in wrecking Yemen, and Washington backs the coalition blockade that is starving Yemen to death. Blocking the transfer of cluster bombs to the Saudis is a good first step in changing this atrocious policy, but it is only a first step and has to be followed by many more.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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