GP Insights

GP Insights # 103, 20 July 2019

US House blocks Trump's Saudi arms deal
Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

What happened?

On 17 July 2019, the US House of Representatives has reportedly passed a resolution to block Trump's plan to sell weapons and guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan. Given the mounting rift between the White House and the Congress, the latest blockade could be read as an expression of political displeasure of Trump's involvement with Saudi in the human rights abuses and the increasing causalities in the Yemen war. 

What is the background?

Initially, in May 2019, the Trump administration had pushed for an $ 8.1 billion worth of arms deal with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan by issuing an emergency declaration available within the Presidential powers. The "emergency powers" from the US Arms Export Control Act under the arms control law was tweaked to complete the deal by circumventing the Congress. As per US law, Congress holds the right to review significant weapons sales. 

According to the White House, the fast-track decision came as a measure to tackle new military tensions with Iran that has been threatening the stability of the region while putting a strain on major international trade routes. Most significantly, it has been putting US security and national interests at risk.

What does it mean?

The primary reason for this move is the increasing divide within the system. 

Firstly, the latest blow on the President's decision could be viewed as an extension of ongoing efforts to put restraints over the American President's war-time powers and restructure current defence policies. It could also be read as an effort by Congress to exert its importance as a constitutional authority. According to US Arms sales law, the Congress review "stands to be the only instance that allows the open scrutiny of major arms sales to foreign countries."

Second, concerns over the message that USA's deepening relations with Saudi would send at a time when the former has to be seen holding the kingdom accountable for the murder of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is imperative to note that Trump had earlier dismissed UN requests over investigations into the Khashoggi murder claiming that it could affect the existing weapon transactions and sales with Saudi. 

Finally, the move shows mounting discomfort over American involvement in the Yemen war. The weapon deal has come at a time when Yemen is trying to push for a peace process. In April this year, Trump had vetoed a Congress decision to end US involvement in the Yemen crisis through Saudi. Widespread reports suggest that the latest weapon-transfer is to be used for the Yemeni war by the Saud as they have used up their weaponry and are looking for supplies. This is on par with Trump's idea that Saudi supported coalition in Yemen would help in differentiating targets better and thereby reduce civilian causalities. 

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