Renewed arms sales to Saudi Arabia perpetuates Yemen’s war, must be blocked

WASHINGTON, DC – On 19 May 2017, the Trump administration notified Congress of its intent to renew sales of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to halt such sales due to the munitions’ use against civilians in Yemen. Resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia while the Saudi-led coalition continues to target civilians and civilian infrastructure with US weapons doubles down on an already tried-and-failed US policy, risks aiding and abetting the coalition’s likely war crimes in Yemen, and violates US and international law. The YPP condemns the administration’s decision to unconditionally arm Saudi Arabia and calls on Congress to block the sale.

“Saudi Arabia acts with impunity in Yemen, and the Trump administration just gave Saudi officials the green light to continue on its disastrous course,” said Kate Kizer, director of policy & advocacy at the YPP. “Approving unconditional weapons sales only pours more fuel on the fire in Yemen and increases US complicity in the coalition’s alleged war crimes, which are carried out with US weaponry and assistance.”

Since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in March 2015 – following the September 2014 coup in which the Houthi rebels took over the capital through an alliance of convenience with security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh – the US has provided weapons, intelligence, and logistical support—including in-air refueling—to coalition forces. The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly struck civilian areas and infrastructure throughout the war—most infamously with the bombing of a funeral in San’a in 2016 that killed nearly 150 civilians and injured 500 more, and more recently with last week’s airstrike in Taiz, which killed 23 civilians.

The Obama administration attempted to improve Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen for nearly two years by providing more support and more sophisticated weaponry. Instead of lessening civilian casualties, however, this strategy revealed systemic issues in Saudi Arabia’s targeting procedures indicating that target selection, not the amount of assistance, is the primary cause of civilian deaths. Approving the sale of PGMs reinforces this failed strategy and eschews the diplomatic engagement (with attendant consequences for spoilers) needed to bring about a political settlement to a conflict that has no military solution.

“If the Trump administration’s goal is to actually foster a negotiated settlement to the conflict, as Secretary Mattis has stated, the administration is shooting itself in the foot by perpetuating the idea that this conflict can be won on the battlefield with more arms,” continued Kizer.

Continuing to arm one side of the conflict not only undermines US calls for a political settlement, but it also creates international and domestic legal concerns. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen have documented potential war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Saudi-led coalition throughout the war. Additionally, new analysis released by the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights indicates that continued US arms sales to Saudi Arabia are illegal under the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act. 

In light of these facts, the US can no longer rely on verbal assurances from Saudi officials that US-sold weapons will not be used against civilians. The YPP urges Congress to introduce joint resolutions of disapproval to block the sale of weaponry that can be used against civilians in Yemen. In place of this sale, Congress should pass S.J.Res 40, a bipartisan bill that institutes common-sense conditions on additional munitions sales to Saudi Arabia based on its conduct in Yemen. Until Saudi Arabia ends its bloody campaign in Yemen, the US must stop aiding and abetting their actions through massive arms transfers.