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US Congress should block $1.15 billion sale of heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia

19 August 2016

The US administration recently approved the sale of $1.15 billion in yet more assorted heavy weaponry to Saudi Arabia which appears at risk of use in the Yemen conflict. This sale, on top of tens of billions of dollars of other US arms sales, supports the continuation of a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen and undermines hopes for a negotiated peace, which, as the US Government has acknowledged, is ultimately the only way out of the current quagmire. The US Congress can and should block it, as continued military support on this scale, far from operating as a force for stability in the region, is encouraging further Saudi military adventurism as well as consigning Yemeni civilians to yet more misery and destruction. 

U.S. officials have stated that the American focus in Yemen is on cessation of hostilities and peace talks. However, the US recently approved the sale of $1.15 billion in assorted heavy weaponry to Saudi Arabia that could be used to prolong combat in Yemen, despite the fact that 22 US Code § 2778 states that American weapons should not be sold or transferred when doing so would “increase the possibility of outbreak or escalation of conflict.”  There is strong evidence from numerous sources of the devastating humanitarian impact of the Saudi-led intervention, and the longer it continues, the greater the cost will be.

Since the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen began in late March 2015, more than 6,400 people are reported to have been killed, and tens of thousands injured. It is estimated that there are over 3 million displaced people in Yemen due to the conflict. While all sides to the conflict are accused of serious breaches of international law – the Houthi-allied forces stand accused of indiscriminate shelling in residential areas and other serious violations – the United Nations estimates that three quarters of the civilian casualties have been caused by Saudi airstrikes. Washington has already recognized the problem, and recently blocked the transfer of additional cluster munitions, an inherently indiscriminate weapon, after it was shown that they had been used close to civilian areas.

There are multiple well documented instances that airstrikes have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a displaced persons camp. Strikes on international aid agencies’ facilities and food supply infrastructure such as factories and main roads are escalating the humanitarian crisis, contributing to severe food and fuel shortages in the country.

Moreover, the UN-mediated peace talks cannot be successful until the parties to Yemen’s civil war acknowledge that a military victory is not the solution. A grinding war of attrition between forces on the ground in Yemen has seen little change in the front lines for the last 12 months. President Hadi and his exiled government sitting in Riyadh have the might of the Kingdom’s air force behind them, yet 16 months of the Saudi-led bombing campaign has so far failed to achieve the desired political concessions from the Houthi-GPC governing authority in control of the capital, Sana’a.

Right now, there is a brief window of opportunity within which Congress can block the sale before it can be executed. GOP Senator Rand Paul has taken the lead in opposing it, but ensuring that result will take a bipartisan effort. Opposing the sale isn’t just the right thing to do for humanitarian reasons; opposition would send a strong signal that it’s time to stop employing the same tactics over and over and expecting different results. Every day the war continues, Yemeni civilians are paying the price with their lives and livelihoods. Congress can instead send a clear signal that a peace process is the only way out in Yemen and that continued arms transfers add fuel to a desperate fire.

Find out more about our work in controlling arms flows or about our work in Yemen.

Photo copyright Mohammed Mahmoud / UNICEF

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This sale, on top of tens of billions of dollars of other US arms sales, supports the continuation of a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen and undermines hopes for a negotiated peace