In May this year, the Trump administration issued an emergency declaration to push through an $8.1 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan without congressional approval. Proponents of the deal contend that a fresh supply of weapons is necessary to counter mounting Iranian aggression that threatens to destabilize the region and put U.S. security interests at risk.
However, the declaration provoked anger from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who have criticized civilian deaths caused by Saudi led air strikes in Yemen. Currently US Senate failed to supersede President Donald Trump’s vetoes of legislation passed by Congress that would have blocked the sale of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Previously, Donald Trump has vetoed a trio of congressional resolutions aimed at blocking his administration from selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The White House has argued that stopping the sale would send a signal that the US did not stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them were increasing. The arms package included thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition and aircraft maintenance support.
The deal includes a coproduction provision that allows Raytheon, a top U.S. weapons manufacturer, to team up with Saudi Arabia and build high-tech bomb parts, potentially sharing technology that has been closely guarded for national security reasons. In the first of three separate efforts to overturn the Republican president’s vetoes, supporters failed by a vote of 45-40, well short of the two-thirds needed. Five of the chamber’s 53 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to override Trump.
The vote tallies were similar in the two subsequent roll-calls. Now after averting the rejection, the future of the deal in terms of execution seems bright. Some see the emergency arms sale as a dangerous precedent that could empower future presidential administrations to undermine Congress’s constitutional authority but now after the voting it has gained an official consent. Trump has argued that cutting off the Saudi weapons sales would weaken U.S. relations with a longtime ally and hurt U.S. competitiveness.
In 2015, Riyadh launched a coalition to oust Houthi rebels from the country’s capital and reinstate the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. The war split the country in two, and with it came the weapons not just guns, but anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, heat seeking lasers and artillery all flooding into an unruly and complex state. Discomfort over U.S. involvement in Yemen grew after the incident, and Obama blocked sales of precision-guided munitions to the coalition after the high-profile incident.
The Trump administration has defended the arms sale as a way of ensuring Arab allies can defend themselves amid an allegedly increased danger from Iran, and that Washington’s credibility as a military partner was at risk if it did not deliver spare parts and other weapons promptly. The deal fits in with Saudi Arabia’s long term economic plan, Saudi Vision 2030, which calls for the country to dramatically increase its domestic arms production.
In a memo last month explaining why the administration has declared an emergency to fast track the arms sale, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad.” Riyadh has also recently benefited from a nuclear technology transfer deal with Washington.
This deal includes civil nuclear technology and the all-important technical support and training. Some experts are of the view that given what we know about Saudi Arabia’s broader proliferation objectives and the spillover of capabilities between related proliferation realms, the U.S. arms deal should not include technology transfer or domestic production guarantees. The current failure of the US Senate to turn over the veto on Saudi arms sale has opened a new phase of discussion. One has to wait for any new development in this regard.