Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Masters of War

The US State Department is taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of hi-tech weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The State Department has yet to announce the exact details and dollar value of the package, but it is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon. The State Department has briefed staff on the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees about the sale, but has yet to release details of the package to members of the committees, according to three aides who were not authorized to speak on the record. Once the chair and ranking member of the committees give the nod, the State Department can formally notify Congress about the sale, which could happen as early as next week.

Reuters reported in November that Saudi Arabia had agreed to buy $7 billion in precision-guided weapons from U.S.-based companies Raytheon and Boeing. Raytheon was “courting lawmakers and the State Department to allow it to sell 60,000 precision-guided munitions to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” according to the New York Times.

Under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department reviews potential arms sales to make sure they align with U.S. foreign policy goals and decides whether to issue export licenses. It then notifies Congress about sufficiently large sales, giving Congress a 30-day window to review and potentially block them. The sale in question is a direct commercial transaction between Raytheon and the Gulf countries, which does not require the government to publicly announce the sale at the time of congressional notification. That means it will be up to senators to decide how many of the details to make public.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a military intervention in Yemen aimed at restoring the former Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The U.S. has been a silent partner to the intervention since the beginning, refueling planes, providing weapons, and targeting intelligence.

Kristine Beckerle, a Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that her organization has documented a number of strikes in which coalition planes used U.S.-produced, precision-guided munitions to strike civilian targets.

“The Trump administration has consistently prioritized selling Saudi Arabia weapons over calling the coalition out for war crimes, despite U.S. arms being used repeatedly in unlawful attacks — including the type of weapon at issue in this sale,” said Beckerle. “Congress should see this as a chance to finally make clear that some members of the U.S. government are no longer willing to reward Saudi abuses with more arms, nor risk U.S. complicity, as the coalition continues to bomb weddings and homes to kill and maim Yemeni civilians.”

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