When the UN Security Council met last week to discuss the deaths and devastation caused to civilians in ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, the killings in Yemen and the air attacks on hospitals, schools, mosques, and market places – whether deliberate or otherwise – were singled out as the worst ever.
But the destruction and irreparable damage to civilian infrastructure and human lives were caused by weapons provided by some of the permanent members of the Security Council, including the US, France and UK.
And last week, in defiance of US Congressional opposition to arms sales to some of the warring Middle Eastern nations, the Trump administration went one better: it justified the proposed sale of a hefty $8.1 billion dollars in American arms to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia under a so-called “emergency notification”.
All three countries are part of a Saudi-led coalition unleashing attacks on Yemen battling Houthi insurgents backed by Iran– and the new weapons systems are expected to add more fire power to the coalition.
The “emergency notification” for arms sales was not only an act of defiance against the US Congress but also an attempt to placate American allies in the Middle East and, more importantly, the powerful arms lobby in the United States.
One of arguments adduced by the Trump administration is that increasing arms sales to Middle Eastern allies are meant to counter an “anticipated Iranian aggression”.
Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and coordinator of the program in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS this is not about deterring Iranian aggression and it is certainly not an “emergency.”
“It’s about the profits of American arms manufacturers at the expense of countless Yemeni lives.”
“This is but the most extreme manifestation, however, of a longstanding bipartisan policy of transferring deadly and sophisticated armaments to the family dictatorships in the Middle East”, said Zunes, who also serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies.
He pointed out that It is ironic that a nation which emerged in revolution against monarchy, would be the world’s number one arms supplier of absolute monarchies today.
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal May 25, the Houthis are less ideologically aligned with Tehran, and Iran denies arming the group. But US officials disagree, saying Iran has trained them and provided them with weapons.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council May 23 that civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, with more than 22,800 civilians dying or being injured in 2018 in just six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
He stressed the need for the Security Council to do more to enhance compliance with the laws of war.
In a statement released last week, the London-based Amnesty International was dead on target when it ridiculed the US argument that some of the weapons supplied to the Saudi-led coalition were “precision-guided” to avoid civilian casualties.
“The great military powers cynically boast about ‘precision’ warfare and ‘surgical’ strikes that distinguish between fighters and civilians. But the reality on the ground is that civilians are routinely targeted where they live, work, study, worship and seek medical care,” the statement added.
AI said parties to armed conflict unlawfully kill, maim and forcibly displace millions of civilians while world leaders shirk their responsibility and turn their backs on war crimes and immense suffering.
Asked for his comments, Philippe Nassif, Advocacy Director – Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, told IPS decision made by President Trump to circumvent Congress and authorize billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to serial human rights abusers Saudi Arabia and the UAE is extremely unfortunate and reckless.
“Both these countries have used US made weapons to commit war crimes in Yemen, a country mired in conflict that has been made worse by the conduct of the UAE and Saudi led coalition,” he added.
The Trump administration has had a blank check policy when it comes to arming its Middle Eastern allies, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
Nassif pointed out that the atrocious human rights records of these governments, where executions, extrajudicial killings, mass incarceration, torture, and indefinite detentions are part of daily life for their citizens, is made worse by the US continuing to arm these governments.
“Now that the UAE and Saudi Arabia will receive new American weapons, we can expect a continuation of the hell that has been brought upon Yemen, where 11 million people are suffering from famine, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and thousands killed,” he noted.
“We can also expect weapons to fall into the wrong hands, such as Al Qaeda, or be sent to other conflict zones where the Saudi’s and UAE are backing ascending autocrats, such as Haftar in Libya,” Nassif declared.
In a statement released May 24, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “I made a determination pursuant to section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act and directed the Department to complete immediately the formal notification of 22 pending arms transfers to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia totaling approximately $8.1 billion to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity”.
“These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
Delaying this shipment, Pompeo argued, could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility.
He argued that national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, “and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit.”
The equipment to the three countries includes aircraft support maintenance; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); munitions; and other supplies.
“Today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran. I intend for this determination to be a one-time event,” Pompeo added.
He pointed out that Section 36 is a long-recognized authority and has been utilized by at least four previous administrations since 1979, including Presidents Reagan and Carter.
“This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to develop prudent measures to advance and protect US national security interests in the region,” he declared.
The United States is, and must remain, a reliable security partner to our allies and partners around the world. These partnerships are a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy, which this decision reaffirms, Pompeo said.
Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.