Debate continues on arms transfers to Saudi Arabia
September 22, 2016

On Wednesday the US senate considered a vote to stop new arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the efforts by a bipartisan group of four Senators to introduce Senate Joint Resolution 39 to block a $1.15 million sale of tanks and other equipment to the Saudi Kingdom was unsuccessful, with 71 against and 27 for. This is despite strong evidence of the country’s human rights record and armed atrocities being committed in the context of their intervention in Yemen.

An Abrams battle tank during a tour of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, Lima Army Tank Plant, in Lima, Ohio, April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

An Abrams battle tank during a tour of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, Lima Army Tank Plant, in Lima, Ohio, April 23, 2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

The debate in the Senate and related media coverage in the U.S. over the past few weeks has highlighted widespread concerns around how Saudi Arabia and its allies are using American-made weapons against civilians in Yemen, as well as highlighting human rights abuses within Saudi Arabia.

“Today’s vote on a resolution of disapproval for arm sales to Saudi Arabia was an important step in stopping U.S. complicity in human rights abuses and the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen.  The resolutions’ failure is not a defeat. Rather the debate around continued U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia means the administration can no longer legitimize the Saudi government’s actions and conduct business as usual,” said Rachel Stohl, Senior Associate at the Stimson Centre.

Saudi Arabia has typically been seen as an ally in the Middle East with enormous financial resources, but  now faces rising bipartisan criticism in the halls of the Capitol. The discussion around the deal has deepened the debate about the country’s role in the enabling the Yemeni crisis in at a time when new information and images have emerged about the famine and deep poverty caused by the conflict, alongside other human rights concerns.

Work continues in many other countries, including the UK, Canada and France to stop arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Campaigners are highlighting that transfers are a violation of ATT obligations, which prohibit transfers where there is a clear risk of their use in violations of human rights and humanitarian law. As a signatory to the ATT, the US is obligated not to undermine its object and purpose. More information on current arms transfers to Saudi Arabia can be found here.