American bombs, other people's wars

American bombs, other people's wars
Comment: The US continues to ship weapons of death to unscrupulous regimes intent on using them against civilians, writes Vijay Prashad.
5 min read
02 Sep, 2015
The US arms industry has a major stake in the global economy of war [Getty]

The United States remains the world's largest arms dealer.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US share of the volume of international arms exports was thirty-one per cent in 2010-14.

The trend line goes upwards. Saudi Arabia, which spent more than $80 billion on weapons last year, is the largest importer of US arms.

Total arms exports to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries increased by seventy-one per cent from 2005-09 to 2010-14. The key year for the increase of the weapons imports by the GCC was 2011 and 2012.

This was in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The GCC states - mainly Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - armed themselves for the wars that would follow. In December 2011, the US and Saudi Arabia signed an arms deal worth $30 billion - the largest single such deal.

     What was Saudi Arabia eager to protect itself from? Or where had it anticipated unrest and war?

The timing is not a coincidence. What was Saudi Arabia eager to protect itself from? Or where had it anticipated unrest and war?

Qatar's forward foreign policy in Syria and Libya also drew it to beef up its military. Boeing opened an office in Doha in 2011. Other firms followed. Private military contractors saw the dollar signs flash across the Gulf. The Arab Spring was the spur for enormous deals.

The two major US allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia, armed themselves well in this period. The United States has a legal threshold that no country in the Middle East can be armed by the US beyond Israel's "qualitative" military superiority.

Saudi Arabia has been the exception. The US does not see it as a threat to Israel. So both these states have been well-lubricated by weaponry from US arms contractors and the government.

These arms sales have increased during the asymmetrical wars in the region. When Israel bombs Gaza, the US supplies it with weaponry. No UN inquiry has yet investigated the role of the US in the war crimes committed against the Palestinians.

During the current Saudi war in Yemen, the US has also resupplied the Kingdom. There has been little concern with the US role here either.

During Israel's string of recent bombings of Gaza (2009, 2012, 2014), the United States has sent weaponry such as guided missile parts and rocket launchers used directly in the murderous bombing.

"The US government is adding fuel to the fire by continuing its supply of the type of arms used by Israel's armed forces to violate human rights," said Amnesty International's Brian Wood during the 2014 bombing. 

"The US government must accept that by repeatedly shipping and paying for such arms on this scale they are exacerbating and further enabling grave abuses to be committed against civilians during the conflict in Gaza."

     Not only did the US arm the Israelis, but they also provided diplomatic cover in the United Nations during the war

Not only did the US arm the Israelis, but they also provided diplomatic cover in the United Nations during the war.

Saudi Arabia, likewise, went to war in Yemen in March of this year.

This war continues. It has thus far taken more than 4,000 lives, with untold numbers of wounded and displaced. The United Nations has repeatedly warned of famine conditions, with at least 80 percent of the population in need of immediate humanitarian aid.

Yemen is the poorest Arab country. It is being attacked by one of the richest Arab states.

As with Israel, Saudi Arabia has complete air superiority - largely thanks to the United States arms sales.

Since the war began, the US has continued to resupply Saudi Arabia with weaponry used in the conflict - Hellfire missiles, Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System rockets, PAC-3 missiles, MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters, MK82 and MK84 bombs - reportedly including the illegal cluster bombs and BLU97 cluster submunitions.

In April, when the bombing was at its peak, a US State Department official said that the US was "making every effort to expedite security assistance to [Saudi] coalition forces". What he meant was arms deliveries.

"UN Security Council: Brokers of peace, merchants of war" - read Nick Rodrigo's commentary here

There has been almost no discussion of a ceasefire in this conflict. Silence from the United States. American weapons continue to fly into Saudi Arabia, which has used them liberally on Yemen. Human Rights Watch has identified several bombing incidents as "apparent war crimes," including the killing of 65 civilians - likely by US-made bombs - in Mokha, Yemen.

Amnesty International has pointed to many more incidents as potential war crimes. Many human rights agencies have called upon the UN Human Rights Council to institute a Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes by all parties to the conflict.

One of these parties must be the United States, which continues to fuel conflict by exporting dangerous weaponry. When the UN investigated Israel's bombing of Gaza, the US remained outside the scope of the inquiry.

If the UN does investigate the Saudi war on Yemen, it must look carefully at the role of arms sales.

Meanwhile, the bombing of Yemen continues as the bombing of Gaza is on hold. After the Gulf War of 1991, the US promoted the view that it did not bomb indiscriminately - which is illegal under international law - it bombed with precision.

The fallacy of the present is the maintenance of the idea that aerial bombardment is precise. Only "precision bombs" are used. Therefore, there can be no civilian casualties. If civilians are killed, it is only an accident. No one can be held responsible for it. It is an act of nature.

French air force brigadier Pierre Marie Gallois visited Iraq after the 1991 bombing. "I drove for 2,500 kilometres in my four-wheel drive," he recounted. "In the villages everything was destroyed. We found bomb fragments dating from 1968, left over from the Vietnam War. This was the same kind of bombing I did half a century ago in World War Two."

Nothing changes. Neither the suppliers of the bombs, nor the nature of bombing.

Vijay Prashad is a columnist at Frontline and a senior research fellow at AUB's Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs. His latest book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2014 paperback).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.