Will President Biden end arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

The US and the UK are the biggest arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, and its attacks on Yemen could not continue without their support. But new US President Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to stop the flow of US arms and end military support. Now is the time to make sure he keeps those promises and force the UK to follow suit too.

I would end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Joe Biden in 2019.

As Joe Biden gets down to business as the new US President, there are signs of hope for an end to the devastating war in Yemen. The US and the UK are the biggest arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia, and its attacks on Yemen could not continue without their support.

The new President has repeatedly promised to stop the flow of US arms and end military support. Now is the time to make sure he keeps those promises and force the UK to follow suit too.

Any halt to US arms sales to Saudi would help end the war, and it would put huge pressure on UK Ministers to reconsider their support too. There is no time to waste. 

Taking action

CAAT will join US allies, and more than 260 organisations from 18 countries, in a call to action against the war on Yemen on Monday 25 January. You can:

Analysis: a new President

After months of false accusations of fraud, failed legal challenges, and a fascist mob taking over the Capitol, Joe Biden has finally replaced Donald Trump as President of the world’s most powerful nation – and biggest arms dealer. What will this mean for US arms sales in the future?

For the most part, probably not much. Like previous Administrations of both parties, Biden and his team still see arms sales as a key tool of US foreign policy. Indeed, under President Obama, US arms exports reached record levels.

Promises on Saudi Arabia

However, in one crucial case there are very real hopes of a change in US policy, namely on arms sales  to Saudi Arabia. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi caused genuine outrage among US politicians, and heightened attention on the devastating Saudi-led war on Yemen.

When the US Congress voted in 2019 to stop some arms sales to Saudi, it was only Trump’s veto that allowed them to continue. Trump also resumed exports of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia that Obama had (belatedly) put on hold, over concern for their use in Yemen.

Meanwhile, President-elect Biden has made numerous statements promising to reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, hold them to account for crimes such as the Khashoggi murder, and end support – including arms sales – to the war in Yemen.

He will have to act quickly. In the dying weeks of his Presidency, Trump announced a new $800 million sale of over 10,000 bombs to Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of dollars of previous orders of fighter aircraft, bombs and missiles, frigates, armoured vehicles, helicopters, missile defence systems, and more, are in the pipeline.

Like the UK, the US also provides support, maintenance, and logistics to the Saudi Air Force, whose fleet is about half and half from the US and UK.

It is not yet clear how far Biden will go in halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, or how much pressure he will bring to bear on them to end the war in Yemen. But this is an issue on which US campaigners, like Codepink and Win Without War, could have real influence. It is important that we support their calls and put pressure on the UK government to act too.

He said it:

“I would end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia… President Trump has issued Saudi Arabia a dangerous blank check. Saudi Arabia has used it to extend a war in Yemen that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pursue reckless foreign policy fights, and repress its own people.”

– Submission to Council on Foreign Policy 1 August 2019

 

“And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”

– Democratic primary debate, 20 November 2019

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