By Nate Smith, Chair, AIUSA Military, Security and Police Transfers Coordination Group

It’s easy to miss other news from around the globe while a pandemic rages, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable among us and turning millions of lives upside-down. The recent news that the Trump Administration plans to sell a massive $27 billion worth of advanced weapons to the UAE is a shocking and grim reminder that there are other ongoing crises around the world happening during this raging pandemic, multiplying the tragedy for millions of families. Arms manufacturers can keep their families quarantined and safe at home, while the bombs they sell destroy civilian lives around the world.

Amplifying Misery in Yemen

The armed conflict in Yemen has seen thousands killed and millions more displaced and at risk of famine; people live in constant fear of death from the sky. It’s hard to even imagine going through a pandemic and a famine at the same time, but this is the context in which the U.S. has decided to augment its arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which prominently includes the UAE. This means that when a local well is bombed, depriving people of a critical source of water, the scraps of shrapnel scattered among the bodies of moms, dads, and kids are stamped “Made in the USA.” It’s not just human rights advocates like Amnesty International that are raising this issue: there is growing concern among top Department of State officials that U.S. leaders could be charged with war crimes for their role in arming the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The New York Times reported in September that “U.S. officials have had full knowledge of the pattern of indiscriminate killing, which makes them legally vulnerable.” Complicity in war crimes extends to the corporations profiting from these killings abroad, as Amnesty and other organizations have argued. Indeed, Amnesty International investigations have found U.S.-made bombs struck hospitals, schools, and civilian homes, killing healthcare providers, teachers, and entire families, including children as young as two years old. After committing these unspeakable atrocities, the UAE government wants to re-arm so it can do it again, and the Trump administration is only too happy to oblige.

Pouring Gas on the Fire in Libya

The UAE has also used armed drones in Libya, breaking the long-standing UN arms embargo, to target civilian houses and health facilities, including field hospitals and ambulances — all protected under international humanitarian law. Senators Booker, Sanders and Shaheen wrote to the Department of State recently to raise these concerns, saying of the UAE’s actions, “this pernicious disregard for the arms embargo has killed and endangered civilians, destroyed vital civilian infrastructure, violated international humanitarian law, and obstructed peace negotiations. The UAE’s role in having perpetuated the conflict and needless humanitarian suffering must be a critical factor in considering the potential sale of F-35s to the UAE.” While the UAE is using its expensive weapons against civilians and medical facilities in violation of international law, arms company CEOs and politicians here in the U.S. are only too happy to provide the means. As if this isn’t bad enough, the UAE-based International Golden Group was caught participating in an arms-diversion scheme alongside companies in the UK and Ukraine, profiting from illegally funneling small arms to South Sudan during the raging conflict in 2013.

Great Power, Great Responsibility

The U.S. is known all over the world as a leader in technology, including military tech. For years, there has been a gold-standard legal framework designed to ensure that these deadly weapons were only sold to responsible actors. While it certainly hasn’t always been applied effectively, the legal, technical and policy infrastructure that aims to ensure U.S. arms aren’t used for atrocities is still critically important. But it’s crumbling under the weight of the arms sales excesses of recent years — this latest example, a monster of a deal for advanced weapons technology to the tune of $27b — is a particularly egregious one. This is dangerous to civilians trapped in armed conflicts, and to our own institutions: if laws are ignored enough times without consequence, they cease to function as intended. Among other issues, this deal appears to be one of the first major examples of the Trump administration’s willingness to ignore the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an international agreement that limits the spread of destabilizing missile technology that has stood for over 20 years. They signaled this move back in July, a unilateral “reinterpretation” done at the behest of weapons manufacturers, as a way to speed up exports of armed drones. But such moves may cause the agreement to unravel, as other countries come under pressure from their own domestic arms manufacturers to help them remain competitive on the global market. All so it’s easier for the UAE government to kill civilians in other countries from the comfort of its palaces.

What can we do?

There are several bills introduced in Congress that address this sale: a set of joint resolutions introduced in the Senate by Senators Menendez, Paul and Murphy prohibits this specific sale (there are versions for each piece of the proposed sale); a bill in the Senate by Senators Menendez, Leahy and Kaine; and another bill by Representative Omar are promising fortifications to critical but severely weakened safeguards against selling weapons to human rights violators. Take action today: tell your representatives in Congress you oppose the proposed arms sales to the UAE and you support reforming arms trade export rules to better protect human rights. When it seems like everything is awful and the big corporations have the upper hand, remember: while millions of dollars speak loudly, millions of voices can be louder — but only if they shout.

Tell your representative that you oppose the proposed arms sales to the UAE, and all arms sales to those who use them against civilians.

Contact your Senators today to urge them to vote against a massive proposed arms deal with the United Arab Emirates.

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