In his visit to Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump finalized the largest arms deal in US history. The US is the world's largest arms exporter, selling most of its weapons to countries with notorious rights records.
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Narration: The global arms trade has been a booming business over the past decades and is now at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. International weapons sales account for two-point-two percent of global GDP. That was one trillion six hundred and eighty six billion dollars in 2016. The lucrative business has had a destructive impact on the human rights situation around the world and has promoted militarism among many of the heavy spenders. The staggering amount of money involved in the trade has triggered an intense competition among major arms exporters. They are trying hard to woo customers and increase their exports perhaps at any cost despite the fact that some of the world’s largest importers of weapons are regimes notorious for human rights violations and known sponsors of terrorism.
The United States is by far the world’s largest arms exporter followed by Russia, Germany and France. America’s largest arms manufacturers include Lockheed Martin, Boeing and BAE systems. The US military industrial complex has expanded to such an extent that its lobbies deeply influence US politics and top level government decision making. The US military industrial complex stands accused of promoting war mongering policies in order to keep international sales up and find new markets around the world. The United States has been sharply criticized by rights groups for selling arms to governments that are engaged in gross rights violations both at home and abroad and are believed to be deeply involved in terrorism. The government of Saudi Arabia is the most outstanding example of such relationship.
SOUNDBITE [English] Chris Murphy, US. Senator: “I think as time goes on it's harder and harder to ignore the holes in the relationship. One of the biggest, and we've known about it for a very long time is the Saudi family's support for the Wahhabi movement which continues to this day.”
Narration: The United States has intensified its weapons sales in the World’s most volatile region, the Middle East. Saudi Arabia ranks as the World’s second largest arms importer, and the biggest recipient of U-S made weapons followed by the United Arab Emirates. U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia multiplied during the two terms of former U.S. president Barack Obama. According to the Center for International Policy, a US-based think tank, under Obama, America gave Saudis 115 billion dollars worth of weapons in dozens of deals. The sales seem to be on track to be boosted even further under US president Donald Trump. The U-S military industry reacted very positively when Trump was elected president and hailed Trump’s planned military budget increase.
SOUNDBITE [English] Medea Benjamin, Co- Founder, Code Pink: “Donald Trump said our military is hollowed out, Where the hell does he get that idea that idea that our military is hollowed out when it takes up fifty four percent of our discretionary funds when it's almost as big as the rest of the world's militaries combined. And he says we have to add more to the air force, and to the navy and to the marines”
Narration: The business-minded president, who has promised to create jobs at home, eyes the Persian Gulf Arab kingdoms as a valuable market. Trump who’s currently on a Middle East tour is working to secure huge arms deals with the Arab kingdoms of the region. He is finalizing a 100-billion dollars arms contract with Riyadh. The deal could end up at three times that figure over a decade. From fighter jets, to command and control systems and advanced battle tanks and warships, the Saudis just name it. The endless sales come as both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are involved in a bloody war in Yemen that’s caused a humanitarian catastrophe there. As the United States funnels weapons into Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states, they are becoming increasingly aggressive and tend to use military approaches to try to advance their goals. Under King Salman who was crowned in January 2015, Saudi Arabia has become a virtual war machine.
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Narration: The kingdom launched an offensive against Yemen in March 2015 in a bid to reinstate its ally former president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and push back Ansarullah fighters and their army allies. None of the strategic goals of the invasion have been fulfilled yet as Ansarullah and their allies across Yemen have put up a fierce resistance. The Saudi war has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen leaving over 12,000 Yemenis dead. Rights groups have many times documented the use of U-S-made banned weapons like cluster bombs in Saudi airstrikes. The United States has been deeply involved in the ongoing war that has boosted al-Qaeda in the Arabia peninsula.
SOUNDBITE [English] Bruce Riedel, Project Director, Brookings Institute: “The United States is a partner in this war. It is a partner every day as you laid out. Refueling aircraft, providing additional ordinance, providing intelligence, providing logistics. If the United States of America and the United Kingdom tonight told King Salman this war has to end it would end tomorrow. Because the royal Saudi air force cannot operate without American and British support.”
Narration: Riyadh has meanwhile stepped up its anti-Iran threats. The Saudi deputy crown prince who is also the defense minister and the architect of the Yemen war recently threatened to destabilize Iran.
The close alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia among other Persian Gulf Arab monarchies has given ammunition to critics of America’s double standards regarding human rights and terrorism.
SOUNBITE [English] Chris Hedges, Author and Journalist: “We have enabled, empowered and armed one of the most vicious dictatorships not only in the Middle East but in the world.”
Narration: The Saudi monarchy has one of the worst human rights records in the world. It’s crackdown on political dissent, religious minorities, abuse of immigrant workers and refusal to hold national elections are just some of the items on the long list of the ruling royal family’s violations. The Saudi royals have funded and armed notorious extremist groups fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The royals also stand accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in America. Yet Washington has turned a blind eye to the kingdom’s behavior and defiantly keeps providing it with state-of-the-art weapons. Many experts believe Washington does not want to lose Saudi Arabia because the kingdom serves as an important platform from which Washington exercises its regional influence. Moreover, the role of Saudi petro dollars which is funding a powerful lobby in Washington should not be overlooked.
SOUNDBITE [English] Medea Benjamin, Co-Founder, Codepink: “The Saudis have also invested in our economy that gives them leverage, they have bought hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. treasury bunds, they have bought up U.S. companies, they have bought up shares in U.S. telecom companies, they bailed Donald Trump out twice in his real estate deals. They are giving a lot of money away to buy friends and influence.”
Narration: Calls have been growing for a halt to arms sales to Persian Gulf Arab states especially Saudi Arabia. Campaign groups and rights organizations have held conferences and rallies to raise awareness about the devastating impact of such sales in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, given the current trend in U-S politics and the powerful Saudi lobby, activists pushing for such policy shift face an uphill battle.