Senators introduce bill to halt US arms transfers to Saudi Arabia

Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation on Wednesday to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia until limitations are imposed on the transfer of US munitions to the kingdom. The Murphy-Paul bill would require the president to provide a briefing on the weapons’ usage and certify that a number of conditions were met before the transfer of any US munitions to Saudi Arabia.

This joint resolution comes after repeated accusations that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has launched airstrikes in violation of international humanitarian law. One of the most severe violations by the coalition was a March airstrike on a Hajjah market that killed over 119 people, mostly civilians, including many children. It was later discovered by Human Rights Watch that munitions used in this attack (the deadliest since the airstrikes began a year ago) were supplied by the United States.

'The more it drags on, the clearer it becomes that our military involvement on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition is prolonging human suffering in Yemen and aiding the very groups that are intent on attacking us,' said Murphy

The conditions required prior to any future weapon sales include a certification that Saudi Arabia “is not providing funding, material support, or lethal aid to individuals or groups designated by the United States as foreign terrorist organizations,” and that the kingdom and its coalition partners “are taking all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian objects to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law…”

The bill would also require that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are making demonstrable efforts to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid in war-torn Yemen. The final condition is that Saudi Arabia take all necessary measures to target designated foreign terrorist organizations, including AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and affiliates of the Islamic State group.

In addition to those conditions, the president would need to provide a briefing prior to any weapons sales that includes a description of “the nature, content, costs, and purposes of any United States support…” along with assessments of whether the kingdom’s military operations constitute legitimate self-defense.

The briefing would also assess whether the coalition has deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure and whether Saudi armed forces have used US munitions in any attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure in Yemen since airstrikes began over a year ago.

Finally, the briefing would outline how US defense equipment transferred to Saudi Arabia would contribute to US efforts to defeat AQAP and the Islamic State group while also promoting US foreign policy and national security objectives in the region.

Under current US law, Congress must be notified of arms sales to foreign governments and legislators must approve these transfers. In practice, however, this process is often too automated to provide any accurate assessment of the use of American weapons abroad.

Here you can watch Senator Murphy discuss the US-Saudi partnership at a Brookings event on April 22.