The United States has been the world’s leading producer of major weapons systems and the leader in global arms sales for the past several decades.
Many of these sales have taken place in the globe’s most volatile region, the Middle East, than in any other region of the world. The so-called peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which were brokered by the United States, were business deals designed to expand U.S. arms sales in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration has made arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Middle East countries the focus of its foreign policy in the region. No sooner had the ink dried on these agreements than disputes emerged over whether Israel had agreed to permit the sale of U.S. F-35 fighter aircraft—the most expensive weapons system in the U.S. arsenal and the most sophisticated jet fighter in the world—to the United Arab Emirates. Until now, no Arab country had been allowed access to this aircraft.
U.S. arms sales generally have contributed to tensions in some of the world’s most sensitive arenas. Saudi Arabia’s misuse of U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft in Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian nightmare, has contributed to the rising civilian death toll there. For the past five years, the United States has earned billions of dollars in sales to the Saudis, whose coalition has considerable responsibility for many of the deaths of more than 127,000 Yemenis, including more than 15,000 civilians. In 2016, the Department of State’s legal office concluded, in fact, that U.S. officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.
The Trump administration is currently taking on a great risk in proposing seven large weapons packages to Taiwan. The weapons would represent one of the largest sales to Taiwan, and would include long-range missiles—Boeing’s AGM-84H—that would allow Taiwanese fighter aircraft—Lockheed Martin’s F-16—to hit distant targets in China. Last year’s sale of 66 F-16s for $8 billion represented one of the largest arms packages to Taiwan in history.