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U.S. Arms Sales and the War on Yemen

The New York Times has published a very good report on the role of U.S.-made arms and U.S.-provided assistance in the war on Yemen. This section merits a few comments:

For decades, the United States sold tens of billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia on an unspoken premise: that they would rarely be used.

The Saudis amassed the world’s third-largest fleet of F-15 jets, after the United States and Israel, but their pilots almost never saw action. They shot down two Iranian jets over the Persian Gulf in 1984, two Iraqi warplanes during the 1991 gulf war and they conducted a handful of bombing raids along the border with Yemen in 2009.

The United States had similar expectations for its arms sales to other Persian Gulf countries.

“There was a belief that these countries wouldn’t end up using this equipment, and we were just selling them expensive paperweights,” said Andrew Miller, a former State Department official now with the Project on Middle East Democracy.

If policymakers used to assume that U.S.-made weapons would not be used by the clients that bought them, they no longer have the luxury of hiding behind that excuse. The Saudis and Emiratis have been using the planes, weapons, and ships they have acquired from U.S. manufacturers to massacre and starve civilians for more than three and a half years. Given their conduct in the war on Yemen, there should be an indefinite moratorium on selling weapons to the Saudis and Emiratis or any other member of the Saudi coalition. We know very well how these governments have used U.S.-made weapons, and we have to assume that they will continue to use them in the commission of war crimes now and in the future. Any future proposed arms sale to any of these governments has to be considered with the war on Yemen in mind.

In the meantime, there is another form of U.S. assistance that our government can and should suspend:

Short of halting all weapons sales, critics say the United States could pressure the Saudis by curtailing its assistance to the air war. Hundreds of American aviation mechanics and other specialists, working under Defense Department contracts, keep the Saudi F-15 fleet in the air. In 2017, Boeing signed a $480 million contract for service repairs to the fleet.

Bruce Riedel has said on more than one occasion that the U.S. could put an end to the Saudi coalition bombing campaign tomorrow if it wanted to do so. The U.S. could ground the Saudi air force by withholding this assistance until they halt their operations in Yemen. That is what the U.S. ought to do next when the Saudi coalition refuses to halt their campaign.

The war on Yemen has been a horrifying example of what happens when the U.S. arms despotic clients to the teeth in the name of “defense” and then refuses to hold them accountable when they use the weapons we sold them to slaughter innocent people.

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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