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.
The Yemen Peace Project urges US lawmakers to halt the sale of tanks and armored vehicles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Department of Defense notified Congress on August 8 of a possible sale of 153 M1A2 tanks, 20 M88Al/A2 armored vehicles, and related weapons systems and materiel, valued at $1.15 billion. Saudi Arabia plans to replace 20 tanks that have been lost in battle, and add 133 new tanks to its arsenal. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of states fighting to restore Yemen’s ousted president, Abdu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, to power, and to destroy military forces loyal to the Houthi movement—also known as Ansar Allah—and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Coalition forces have waged an intensive air campaign in Yemen, and have fought on the ground alongside forces from allied states and a number of irregular Yemeni militias. The United Nations estimates that more than 3,500 civilians have been killed since March 2015, and almost twice as many wounded; the coalition has been responsible for roughly 75% of all civilian casualties. This sale, announced during an important working pause in the UN-sponsored peace talks and a troubling intensification of coalition airstrikes, sends a counterproductive message to all parties to the conflict in Yemen. It will be read by the Hadi government and the coalition as encouragement for further ground operations in Yemen’s north, which would be disastrous for Yemeni civilians. The Houthi-Saleh faction will see the sale as confirmation that America and its allies are not serious about seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict, and could use the sale as justification for their own attacks on Saudi Arabia and Yemeni citizens. This sale would also violate the spirit of Senate Resolution 524, as the concerns raised therein have not yet been addressed by the administration. Furthermore, because UN experts and NGOs have uncovered evidence of substantial violations of international and US law by the Saudi-led coalition, further arms transfers to Saudi Arabia could violate the Arms Export Control Act and the Leahy Law.
Once notified of a potential arms sale by the Department of Defense, Congress has a 30-day period during which it can block or modify the sale. Many members of Congress have been critical of previous arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Due to the August recess and the likely impact of such a sale on the fragile peace process, the Yemen Peace Project calls upon concerned members of Congress to exercise their crucial oversight role and prevent this sale from taking place.