Home/Daniel Larison/The War on Yemen and ‘International Order’

The War on Yemen and ‘International Order’

Ibrahem Qasim/Flickr: air strike in Sana'a, May 2015

One of the more absurd arguments in favor of the arms sale to the Saudis today was that it had something to do with upholding “international order”:

“Were this resolution disapproval ever to be adopted, it would further convince the world that the United States is retreating not only from its commitments, but also as the guarantor of the international order [bold mine-DL],” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Wednesday.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but arming a despotic government to help it batter one of its neighbors has nothing to do with guaranteeing international order or keeping U.S. commitments abroad. As it happens, the continued arming of a government that is responsible for killing thousands of civilians and is guilty of numerous war crimes represents a breach of past commitments that the U.S. made just a few years ago. As of 2013, the U.S. is a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which prohibits the transfer of weapons to other states if the government knows that those weapons are likely to be used in violations of international law. There is good reason to expect that weapons sold to the Saudis and their allies will be used in Yemen and will be used in a manner contrary to international law. Activists have charged that the U.S. and Britain are violating the ATT with their arms sales to the Saudis and their allies, and they have a solid point:

A group that campaigns for stricter arms sales controls said on Monday that Western powers were breaking international law by selling vast amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia that are being used to hit civilians in Yemen.

The Control Arms Coalition said Britain, France and the United States were flouting the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which bans exports of conventional weapons that fuel human rights violations or war crimes.

If hawks in the Senate were actually concerned about honoring our commitments and protecting “international order,” they wouldn’t be signing off on weapons sales to a government that has been committing war crimes with weapons acquired from the U.S., but clearly these are just talking points used to distract from their unconditional support of a bad client as its wages an atrocious war.

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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