US Arms Sales Continue to Enable War Crimes, Human Rights Violations Worldwide

Right here’s a seldom commented-upon actuality of this century and this second: the USA stays the number-one arms-exporting nation on the planet. Between 2017 and 2021, it grabbed 39% of the entire world weapons market and there’s nothing new about that. It has, the truth is, been the highest arms vendor in every year but one for the previous three many years. And it’s a remarkably profitable enterprise, incomes American weapons makers tens of billions of {dollars} yearly.

It might be one factor if it have been merely a matter of cash raked in by the commercial half of the military-industrial advanced. Sadly, in these years, U.S.-supplied weaponry has additionally fueled conflicts, enabled human-rights violations, helped destabilize not simply particular person nations however complete areas, and made it considerably simpler for repressive regimes to commit warfare crimes.

At first look, it appeared that Joe Biden, on coming into the White Home, may take a special method to arms gross sales. On the marketing campaign path in 2020, he had, as an illustration, labeled Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state and implied that the unbridled circulate of U.S. weaponry to that kingdom could be lowered, if not terminated. He additionally bluntly assured voters that this nation wouldn’t “test its values on the door to promote arms.”

Initially, Biden paused arms offers to that nation and even suspended one bomb sale. Sadly, inside eight months of his taking workplace, sales to the Saudi regime had resumed. As well as, the Biden workforce has provided arms to a variety of different repressive regimes from Egypt and Nigeria to the Philippines. Such gross sales distinction strikingly with the president’s mantra of supporting “democracies over autocracies,” in addition to his affordable impulse to supply weapons to Ukraine to defend itself towards Russia’s brutal invasion.

The final president who tried to convey runaway U.S. weapons trafficking underneath some type of management was Jimmy Carter. In 1976, he campaigned for the presidency on a platform based mostly, partially, on selling human rights globally and curbing the arms commerce. And for a period as president, he did certainly droop gross sales to repressive regimes, whereas, in that Chilly Battle period, partaking in direct talks with the Soviet Union on decreasing world arms gross sales. He additionally spoke out eloquently about the necessity to rein within the commerce in demise and destruction.

Nonetheless, Zbigniew Brzezinski, his hardline nationwide safety advisor, waged a marketing campaign inside his administration towards the president’s efforts, arguing that arms gross sales have been too priceless as a software of Chilly Battle affect to be sacrificed on the altar of human rights. And as soon as that longtime ally, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown in 1978 and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, all speak of controlling the arms commerce went out the window.

The Biden File: Why Not Restraint?

What accounts for Joe Biden’s transformation from a president intent on controlling arms gross sales to a business-as-usual promoter of such weaponry globally? The foundation trigger might be present in his administration’s adherence to a collection of misguided notions in regards to the worth of arms gross sales. In a latest report I wrote for the Quincy Institute for Accountable Statecraft on the U.S. method to such exports, I lay out these notions absolutely, together with lending a hand in stabilizing key areas, deterring Washington’s adversaries from partaking in aggression, constructing significant military-to-military relationships with present or potential companion nations, growing this nation’s political and diplomatic affect globally, and creating jobs right here in the USA. Within the Saudi case, Biden’s shift was tied to the damaging notion that we wanted to bolster the Kingdom’s supposedly essential function in “containing Iran” — a coverage that solely will increase the danger of warfare within the area — and the false promise that, in return, the Saudis would develop their oil output to assist curb hovering gasoline costs right here at residence.

Such explanations are a part of an all-encompassing perception in Washington that gifting away or promoting weaponry of each type to overseas shoppers is a risk-free means of garnering but extra financial, political, and strategic affect globally. The constructive spin advocates of the arms commerce give to the federal government’s function because the world’s largest arms dealer ignores the truth that, in too many circumstances, the dangers — from fueling battle and growing home repression elsewhere to drawing the USA into pointless wars — far outweigh any doable advantages.

An Arms Shoppers Corridor of Disgrace

There are quite a few examples, each traditionally and within the current second, of how this nation’s arms gross sales have completed extra hurt than good, however for now let’s simply spotlight 4 of them — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a horrifying and disastrous seven-and-a-half-year-long intervention in Yemen that has killed hundreds of individuals via indiscriminate air strikes on civilian targets starting from hospitals, water remedy vegetation, and factories to marketplaces, weddings, and even a funeral. In all, that battle has prompted an estimated practically 400,000 deaths, largely resulting from a Saudi-run air-and-sea blockade that has impeded importing meals, medical provides, and gasoline. The overwhelming presence of U.S.-supplied plane, bombs, missiles, and different weaponry in that navy marketing campaign has led many Yemenis to view it as an American warfare on their nation, spurring resentment and doubtlessly damaging future relations all through the area.

In contrast to in Ukraine, the place the Biden administration has helped a rustic defend itself towards a overseas invasion via the supply of arms and intelligence, in Yemen it might assist cease the killing tomorrow just by chopping off arms, spare components, and assist in the upkeep of weapons programs. Such strain would push the Saudi regime to definitively finish its damaging air strikes and its devastating blockade of that nation, whereas doubtlessly encouraging the launching of good-faith negotiations to finish the warfare there.


In terms of Egypt, the Biden administration has provided greater than $6 billion in weaponry to this point, together with missiles, helicopters, and transport planes. All of that’s going to the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who’s broadly thought to be the most repressive leader in that nation’s historical past. The el-Sisi authorities has gunned down demonstrators on the street, locked up thousands of political prisoners, and run a scorched earth counterinsurgency marketing campaign within the northern Sinai desert that has killed harmless civilians and pushed hundreds of individuals from their houses.

Nor are such systematic human rights abuses counterbalanced by “strategic” advantages of any apparent type. Fairly the alternative. The el-Sisi regime has taken numerous positions opposite to Washington’s pursuits. These have included supporting the Assad regime in Syria, aiding insurgent forces combating the internationally acknowledged authorities in Libya, backing antidemocratic navy leaders in Sudan, and constructing navy ties with Russia via arms gross sales, navy workouts, and a safety settlement. Congressional consultant Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) hammered home this level a number of years in the past, saying, “In trade for the favors that Egypt will get from the White Home, they don’t really do something for us. This isn’t a state of affairs the place we’re buying and selling off human rights for one thing that advances the U.S. nationwide curiosity. Egypt… contributes nothing to the targets of peace and safety… [U.S. arms transfers] do completely nothing to profit Egyptian safety or ours.”


Final April, the USA provided assault helicopters value $997 million to Nigeria, marking the most recent stage within the warming of relations between the 2 nations that started early within the Trump years.

The Nigerian navy, nevertheless, has committed torture on an enormous scale whereas concentrating on hundreds of civilians in an ongoing marketing campaign towards the terrorist group Boko Haram and its native offshoots. As Human Rights Watch has reported, there’s a “affordable foundation to consider” that Nigerian safety forces have dedicated crimes towards humanity. Amnesty Worldwide reported that 10,000 civilians died between 2011 and 2020 from excessive neglect in prisons run by Nigeria’s navy. And far from reducing terrorism, such conduct has additional destabilized vital components of the nation, stoking opposition to the federal government and making it simpler for terrorist teams to recruit and function. Earlier this month the safety state of affairs in Nigeria had deteriorated so badly that the Biden administration ordered the relations of U.S. diplomats to go away Abuja, the capital, resulting from a “heightened threat of terrorist assault.”

The Philippines

U.S. arms transfers to the Philippines are of specific concern. The USA supplied or provided billions of {dollars}’ value of small arms, assault helicopters, and different weapons programs to the regime of former president Rodrigo Duterte, a authorities infamous for murdering and imprisoning hundreds of civilians, in addition to key human rights and democracy activists, underneath the guise of combating a “war on drugs.” The gross sales have been made as a part of Washington’s anti-China containment technique, regardless that the Philippines gives little worth on that entrance.

It stays to be seen whether or not the brand new president, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., an ally of Duterte who took workplace in Could 2022, will pursue completely different insurance policies. However as Heart for Worldwide Coverage analyst John Edward Mariano pointed out not too long ago, Amnesty International and different neutral analysts “predict continued human rights abuses and democratic backsliding.” In response to the state of affairs within the Philippines, congressional consultant Susan Wild (D-PA) has launched the “Philippine Human Rights Act,” which might lower off navy help to the regime till it has taken concrete steps to stop future human-rights abuses.

Firms Money In

Whereas the humanitarian penalties of U.S. arms gross sales could also be devastating, in the event you occur to be a serious weapons maker like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, or Basic Dynamics, the financial advantages are huge. Weapons programs constructed by these 4 firms alone have figured in more than half of the $100 billion-plus in main arms gives made since President Biden took workplace.

Whereas these companies want to pose as passive beneficiaries of fastidiously thought-about authorities insurance policies, they proceed to work extra time to loosen restrictions on weapons exports and develop the variety of nations eligible for such tools and coaching. To that finish, these 4 big companies alone routinely donate thousands and thousands of {dollars} to key members of Congress, whereas employing 300 lobbyists, a lot of them drawn from the ranks of the Pentagon, Congress, and the Nationwide Safety Council. As soon as on board, these retired generals, admirals, and different officers use their authorities contacts and inside data of the arm-sales course of to affect authorities insurance policies and practices.

A very egregious and visual instance of this was Raytheon’s effort to strain Congress and the Trump administration to approve a sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis. A former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, worked contained in the State Division to maintain the Saudi arms pipeline open regardless of that nation’s bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, after which Raytheon’s former CEO, Thomas Kennedy, even went as far as to directly lobby Senate Overseas Relations chairman Senator Robert Menendez over Saudi arms gross sales. (He was rebuffed.) However essentially the most spectacular lobbyist for the Saudis was, in fact, President Trump, who justified persevering with arms gross sales to Riyadh after the regime’s 2018 homicide of U.S. resident, Saudi journalist, and Washington Submit columnist Jamal Khashoggi this fashion:

“$110 billion will likely be spent on the acquisition of navy tools from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and plenty of different nice U.S. protection contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China could be the big beneficiaries — and really joyful to amass all this newfound enterprise. It might be an exquisite present to them straight from the USA!”

In reality, neither Russia nor China would be capable of substitute the U.S. as Saudi Arabia’s major arms provider any time quickly. The Kingdom is so reliant on American tools that it’d take a decade or extra for it to rebuild its navy round weapons equipped by one other nation.

In actuality, expansive as American arms gross sales to the Saudis are, that $110 billion determine was a typical case of Trumpian exaggeration. Precise gross sales throughout his time period have been lower than one-third of that, and jobs tied to these gross sales within the U.S. have been equally far less than President Trump claimed. The determine he preferred to throw round — 500,000 — was at the very least 12 occasions the precise one. Nonetheless, the injury completed by the weaponry his administration rammed via Congress for the Saudis has been incalculable and may’t be measured by the greenback worth of any specific sale.

The Raytheon lobbying marketing campaign was extraordinary primarily as a result of its particulars turned public data. However depend on one factor: related efforts by different military-industrial companies certainly happen behind closed doorways regularly. One precondition for decreasing harmful arms offers must be decreasing the political energy of the most important weapons-producing firms.

Pushing Again In opposition to U.S. Arms Gross sales

In 2019, spurred by Saudi actions starting from the warfare in Yemen to the Khashoggi homicide, each homes of Congress voted down a particular deal for the primary time — $1.5 billion in precision-guided bombs for Saudi Arabia and different Center Japanese shoppers — solely to have their actions vetoed by President Trump. Successful votes to finish navy assist for Saudi Arabia underneath the Battle Powers Decision met the same destiny.

The latest Saudi decision to facet with Russia on decreasing world oil output has reinvigorated such Congressional efforts. A brand new Yemen Battle Powers Decision co-sponsored by Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has more than 100 backers within the Home, whereas a parallel measure co-sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been proposed within the Senate. In the meantime, Senate Overseas Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called for a maintain on most arms transfers to the Saudi regime, whereas Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Consultant Ro Khanna (D-CA) are seeking a one-year suspension of Saudi gross sales as leverage to power that nation to reverse its choice to heat relations with Russia and finish its intervention in Yemen. Such efforts will face a far more durable street in a Republican-controlled Congress, so time is of the essence.

Success in reining in Washington’s arms gross sales will, on the very least, require a serious marketing campaign of public training. Too few Individuals even find out about their nation’s function because the world’s largest weapons dealer, a lot much less the devastating impression of the arms it transfers. However when requested, a majority of Individuals are against arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and consider arms gross sales to be “a hazard to U.S. safety.”

Nonetheless, till there may be higher public understanding of the humanitarian and safety penalties of what the federal government is doing in our title, coupled with concerted strain on the Biden administration, the nationwide safety state, and the weapons makers, the arms commerce is more likely to proceed full velocity forward. In that case, these firms will stay in weapons heaven, whereas so many individuals on this planet will discover themselves in a hell on earth.