Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Report: $20 Billion U.S. Arms Deal to Contain Iran No Substitute for Diplomacy

The Center’s Travis Sharp and Katie Mounts today released a tremendous report which examines the Bush administration’s decision to sell $20 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other GCC states as an effort largely designed to contain Iran. They argue that the sale is another example of how the U.S. continues to use deadly technologies as the flawed currency of friendship with foreign nations.

Click here to read the online version of the report, here to read the PDF version with footnotes, or here for the press release.

The executive summary of the report follows:

In July 2007, the United States announced the sale of $20 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and its neighbors of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are slated to receive advanced satellite-guided bomb technology known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will receive, inter alia, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and -2 (PAC-3 and PAC-2) missiles.

Bush administration officials have indicated that the $20 billion arms deal is primarily aimed at containing Iran. Supplementary rationales for the deal include the fortification of American influence vis-à-vis peer competitors in the Middle East, future business for the United States providing spare parts, and reassurance of Gulf allies in advance of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

From 1999 to 2006, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia ranked in the top five in the Middle East for the total value of their arms transfer agreements with the United States (Egypt and Israel ranked 1st and 2nd, respectively). The United Arab Emirates received $7 billion in arms transfer agreements ($892 million annual average), Saudi Arabia received $6.5 billion ($815 million annual average), and Kuwait received $3 billion ($334 million annual average) during this period in inflation-adjusted Fiscal Year 2006 dollars.

The United States has consistently used deadly technologies as the currency of friendship with foreign nations. From 1999 to 2006, the value of all U.S. arms transfer agreements worldwide was slightly less than the next five highest suppliers combined (Russia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, China). The United States supplied 56% of all arms transfer agreements with the Middle East during the same period. That is five times greater than Russia's proportion, the second highest supplier, and almost twenty times greater than China's proportion.

Previous experiences with Iran and Iraq illustrate that selling arms to strategic allies can backfire if the regime or relationship changes. The United States supplied Iraq with cluster bombs and chemical weapons in the 1980s, only to fight the Iraqi military in 1991 and again in 2003 and watch helplessly in the 1980s as Saddam Hussein brutally murdered thousands of Kurds. Iran made one-third of its defense purchases from the United States during the 1970s, but the two countries are now approaching their third decade of always chilly and sometimes hostile relations.

Instead of working with countries to improve political freedom, the $20 billion sale rewards an oppressive Saudi monarchy whose human rights record has not met expectations of improvement following the accession to the throne of King Abdullah in August 2005. Moderate Muslims throughout the world resent American involvement in the perpetuation of oppressive regimes through the sale of advanced weaponry.

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