The US-Saudi Arms Ties

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Saudi Arabia has increased its arms imports over the last years and the US has remained the top arms exporter to the kingdom; arms that find their way into Yemeni homes, hospitals and crowded markets.

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Narration: March 2016, Hafr Al-Batin, Saudi Arabia. This is one of the biggest war games exercises in the Middle East. Dubbed North Thunder, the drill involves some Arab and non-Arab countries under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. It is a show of force and an indication that the region is plunging deeper into an arms race.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, in 2015, Saudi Arabia’s military spending grew by 5.7 percent to $87.2 billion, making it the world’s third-largest spender and by far the largest in the Middle East. Although a number of other oil-dependent nations reduced their military budgets due to the drop in oil prices, Saudi Arabia has had no cuts in this regard. On the contrary, statistics show that over the past 10 years, military spending in the country has nearly doubled. The increase in Saudi weapons imports came as the kingdom began to lead a coalition targeting the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement in Yemen. The purchases in the past year include Eurofighter Typhoon jets, F-15 warplanes and Apache helicopters, as well as precision-guided weapons, drones and surveillance equipment. In a report recently released by IHS Inc., Saudi Arabia is leading a $65 billion global defense market, followed by India, Australia, Egypt and South Korea. On the other hand, the U.S. remained the top weapons exporter in 2015.

Austerity measures in the U.S. have prompted a number of companies in the country to seek international markets for military deals. Last year, the U.S. supplied almost $23 billion in goods and equipment, of which $8.8 billion went to the Middle East.

SOUNDBITE [English] Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense a US: “We are working together to develop a blueprint for regional ballistic missile defense architecture, regional ballistic missile defense architecture. We've also collaborated in almost 40 exercises together since Camp David, practicing integrated air missile defense, combined arms, tactical air operations, special operations and maritime operations. We've made important strides in providing GCC nations with critical defense equipment. Over 33 billion dollars worth since last May including over 66,000 precision-guided munitions to support urgent GCC operational requirements.”

Narration: Currently, the U.S. government is the primary supplier of Saudi weapons. In November 2015, it sold $1.29 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. It included more than 10,000 bombs, munitions, and weapons parts manufactured by Raytheon and Boeing, as well as bunker busters, and laser-guided and “general purpose” bombs. A month earlier, the United States had approved a $11.25 billion sale of combat ships to the kingdom. During the past five years, the U.S. government has sold the Saudis $100 billion worth of arms. These sales have greatly swelled the coffers of U.S. defense contractors at the time of economic downturn and helped keep open production lines that would otherwise have to close due to declining orders.

Amid the turmoil in the Middle East, the Obama Administration has kept the flow of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia running.This is particularly troubling given the conflicts raging throughout the region, and given the Saudis’ use of U.S.-supplied weaponry in its military intervention in Yemen which has contributed to the humanitarian catastrophe there.

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SOUNDBITE [English] Jamie McGoldrick, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen: “Many millions of children are not in school. Hundreds of hospitals don’t function any more for a variety of reasons, one, because the hospital or the school has been destroyed or caught up in the conflict. The supplies of fuel or material for those schools or hospitals are in short supply. Salaries are not being paid for workers in those situations. And populations have moved away from areas because of the conflict as well.”

Narration: Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International indicates that the Saudis have used U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen.

SOUNDBITE [English] Ole Solvang, Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch: “We have found evidence that ground-launched cluster ammunition rockets have been used in attacks against at least seven locations in northern Yemen. Most likely these rockets were launched from Saudi Arabian territory. Cluster ammunitions are bombs or rockets that explode in an area and then disperse many more bombs over a wide area. Weapons used in this particular attacks were US-made M26 rockets each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be injured or killed and at least 30 civilians were killed or dozens injured in the attack that we documented.”

Narration: Cluster bombs are indiscriminate weapons that are the subject of an international treaty banning their use—a treaty that has not been signed up to by either the United States or Saudi Arabia.

SOUNDBITE [English] Rupert Colville, Spokesperson of OHCHR: “The airstrikes completely destroyed 16 shops in the market, which is a primary shopping area for some 15 surrounding villages, and the attack had apparently taken place during the afternoon rush hour, when the market was particularly crowded. These awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity, and in addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations.”

Narration: In January, UN experts accused Riyadh of widespread and systematic bombardment of civilian targets and even targeting of civilians who were fleeing. The report suggested that the strikes could be in violation of international humanitarian law. It echoed similar concerns by a number of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam.

SOUNDBITE [English]Nina Walch, Yemen Researcher, Amnesty International: “Our research has demonstrated that in Saudi Arabia we found bombs that have been fabricated in the UK and the US, for example, so we are calling on all governments to stop the arms transfer to Saudi Arabia, because those arms could be used to commit the human rights violations in Yemen.”

SOUNDBITE [English]Rasha Mohamed, Yemen Researcher, Amnesty International: “For the US to suspend arms transfers to all coalition members that are carrying out air strikes specifically in light of this new evidence. Two, we are still calling on the international community and the UN specifically to set up an international commission of inquiry to look into these alleged war crimes.”

Narration: In February, the European parliament voted for an EU-wide arms embargo against Saudi Arabia to protest against Riyadh’s devastating war on Yemen.

But the move does not seem to carry much weight. And Riyadh’s Western allies do not seem willing to miss any chance to replenish the Saudi arsenal and hit the jackpot.

Mr. Cameron, we're very concerned when we heard you're running out of missiles to sell to the Saudis to be used to cause carnage in Yemen and so we want to replenish your stock. Now we can either leave them on the front doorsteps or bring around the back. Whatever works for you, Sir. Official figures indicate that Britain’s sales of bombs and munitions to Saudi Arabia increased from 9 million to over 1 billion pounds in late 2015 while.

Saudi Arabia has increased its arms imports over the last years and the United States has remained the top arms exporter to the kingdom; arms that easily find their way into Yemeni homes, hospitals and crowded markets.

SOUNDBITE [English]Belkis Wille, Yemen Researcher, Human Rights Watch: “We are calling on the US, the UK, France and other countries that are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the leading member of the coalition that is bombing Yemen to implement a complete arms embargo to stop selling weapons until Saudi Arabia starts abiding by the laws of war and launches investigations into these attacks that are killing civilians.”

Narration: More than 8 thousand five hundreds, mostly civilians, have been killed since Saudi Arabia launched its relentless war against Yemen last March. The kingdom has engaged in war crimes, and the United States of America along with other allies, is aiding and abetting them by providing the Saudis with military assistance. 


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