Questions remain over US weapons trade after Biden freezes Saudi arms sales

By Richard Baker

PRESIDENT Joe Biden’s freezing of billions worth of pending arms sales agreed by Donald Trump in the last months of his presidency has been met with mixed reactions. 

There are those who welcome turning down the weapons tap to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. But some believe it doesn’t go far enough. 

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden stated: “I would end US support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

During his short time in office, Biden has seemed to have made a major step towards that promise. A clear departure from the relationship massaged between the “pariahs” of the Saudi Royal Family and ex-President Donald Trump.

Dylan Awalt -Conley of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) isn’t convinced, despite calling it a “promising sign.”

He told Redaction Politics: “If Joe Biden is serious about leveraging arms sales to end US involvement in the war, then he should at least make clear that these sales will only be reinstated when the Saudi coalition fully withdraws from Yemen.”

“It is impossible at this point to take any such assurances seriously.”

Awalt-Conley, who sits on the DSA Anti-war committee who work on Yemen, added: “As long as the Saudis are good on their payments, I doubt that Biden will ever jeopardise this broader relationship.”

Others are now calling for the UK to follow America’s path and look at its arms sales to the Middle East. 

Wayne David, Shadow Minister for the Middle East and North Africa told Redaction Politics: “There is overwhelming evidence that Saudi air strikes in Yemen have caused significant loss of civilian lives. Britain should now follow Biden’s example and end the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “The UK government didn’t call for the US to lift Trump’s designation of the Houthis, which would have crippled the aid programme and led to a bad situation getting much worse.

“Now they are again isolating themselves by still selling arms to the Saudis.”

In response, A Government spokesperson from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) told Redaction Politics: “HMG takes its export responsibilities seriously and will continue to assess the export licenses in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”

A conservative estimate by CAAT concluded the UK has sold at least £5.4 billion worth of arms to Saudi Forces since the war in Yemen began in 2014.

UK-based BAE Systems also provide vital technical support and training which helps pump life into the Saudi war machine.

The US is no stranger to the international arms trade. The world’s largest player in this field, accounting for a third of the total arms trade.

The war in Yemen has raged on for seven years. Reports suggest the conflict has killed 85,000 children under the age of five through malnutrition.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) believes the US and UK are helping to eat away at this situation through their supplying of the Saudi war machine. 

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “The Saudi-led bombing of Yemen would not be possible without the arms sales and support of the White House.

“Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to end that support. If these reports are true, it is definitely an encouraging sign. We hope this freeze will see these arms sales cancelled and ongoing licenses revoked.”

Smith believes Bidens freeze could “help to force action from the UK and the other arms dealing governments that have willingly ignored the destruction and enabled the humanitarian crisis.

“It is long past time for Boris Johnson and his colleagues to do the same and to end their complicity in this crisis,” he added.

A US State Department spokesperson told Redaction Politics: “The Department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending US defense transfers and sales under Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review.

“This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to transparency and good governance, as well as ensuring U.S. arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partners.”

They claimed the USA will pursue diplomatic means to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen, saying: “The United States has paused some arm sales to Saudi Arabia.  We are conducting an administrative review to ensure U.S. arms sales meet our strategic objectives. In Yemen, in particular, we will be placing our emphasis on diplomacy to end the war.

“We are fully committed to supporting Saudi Arabia in the defence of its territory and people.”

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore @Flickr

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