The United States and Middle-Eastern Arms Trade, A Closer Look
Originally Published in Patheos
We’ve all seen the tragic images of children killed or injured in the Syrian civil war. An estimated 55,000 children have been killed in the fighting. This is among the hundreds of thousands total casualties of civilian deaths. Less known are the thousands that have died in the conflicts taking place in Yemen, Iraq, and Libya. The war in Yemen between the Sunni led government and the Iranian backed Houthi rebels has already killed more than 10,000 and displaced more than 3 million. The many conflicts in the Middle East are complex and show no signs of ending any time soon.
It can’t get worse, right?
Well, it was recently reported that the US would sell fighter jets to Bahrain to bolster their military capabilities against the potential military threat of Iran. Last month it was reported that the Trump administration was looking to resume $1.15 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. In both cases the Obama administration had blocked sales due to concerns over human rights abuses. Since 2010 the United States has sold them more than $47 billion worth of weapons. Selling more weapons to Saudi Arabia is sure to continue to fuel the ongoing proxy war with Iran taking place in Yemen and Syria. The US is not alone in the lucrative arms sales market, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the orders have exceeded $56 billion, boosted from showcasing their weapon systems in the Syrian civil war. Continuing to supply weapons has the potential to expand this war in a region that is already war torn with multiple conflicts.
One of the justifications that is often given for selling weapons to such nations is that it boosts the economy. While true, this is done with a great cost in human lives. Commenting on this practice, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad remarked during the 14th Annual Ahmadiyya International Peace Symposium in the UK:
“In my opinion, this view is completely senseless and only encourages the further production and sale of extremely dangerous weapons. Indeed, it is such justifications that have caused the world to become embroiled in a never-ending arms race. For the sake of the good of mankind, governments should disregard fears that their economies will suffer if the arms trade is curbed. Instead, they should think about the type of world they wish to bequeath to those that follow them.”
He went on to note that arms sales have worked to destabilize nations such as Libya and Syria as different Western nations supply opposing factions in these wars. It is well known that these conflicts have weakened national governments and created a vacuum that has allowed extremist groups like ISIS to thrive and capture large amounts of territory due the civil wars in these countries. The very arms that were supplied to the Western supported factions ended up in the hands of ISIS terrorists. Researchers have estimated that 80 percent of the weapons and munitions in ISIS’ possession have originated from Chinese, Russian, and US manufacturers. These have either been captured in their territorial gains on or supplied by other factions in the Syrian war that are supplied by these same nations. The willingness of these factions to sell weapons and buy oil from ISIS has kept the group alive much longer than it should have. In 2015, it was estimated that ISIS oil sales exceeded 500 million through black market sales with neighboring countries.
If one steps back and looks at the big picture, we cannot overlook the danger of the regional conflict escalating into a worldwide conflict. After Russian intervention in the Ukraine, the United States, through NATO, has supplied more arms to the nations surrounding Russia to prevent further aggressive actions by the Russians. Now both the United States and Russia have a military presence in Syria. While both sides may be united against ISIS now, once ISIS is defeated the picture is less clear with the two nations historically supporting different factions.
One thing is clear, the expanding arms trade is not alleviating the violence in the Middle East as wars are currently being fought in four different countries with horrific casualties. The expanding arms trade is only fueling these wars and runs the risk of expanding and pulling in even more nations.
If America continues to turn it back on human rights in favor of supplying weapons that fuel wars that take innocent lives, it will lose its credibility as a leader for justice and peace. Last year, a bipartisan group of US Senators recognized this risk when it tried to block the weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. Senator Rand Paul noted “We are complicit and actively involved with war in Yemen. There’s been no debate in Congress, really no debate in the public sphere, over whether or not we should be at war in Yemen”. Senator Chris Murphy said “If you talk to Yemenis, they will tell you that this is perceived inside Yemen as not a Saudi-led bombing campaign, … but as a US bombing campaign or at best a US-Saudi bombing campaign. There is a US imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen, which is radicalizing the people of this country against the United States.” If nations continue to sell weapons and buy cheap oil from terrorists like ISIS, they will only fuel the conflicts and the very groups that they claim to be fighting. Furthermore, they will feed the narrative of terrorists and create even more resentment against Western nations in the Middle East.Perhaps most concerning, that resentment and anger risks manifesting in violence and terrorism–not just against civilians in the Middle East, but around the world. Tens of thousands of children have already died in these horrific conflicts. We need to curb the arms trade now to ensure no children die, as a result.