Trump Administration - $110 Billion Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia
UPDATE - Vote on Senate resolution of disapproval (S. J. Res 42) for precision-guided munition sale was narrowly blocked on June 13 with a 47-53 result. See our resource page on the vote.
On May 20, Donald Trump announced the sale of $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia during his first stop on his first international trip as U.S. president (fact sheet and joint strategic vision). At this time it is difficult to determine what items and services would be new and which would be carryover from the Obama administration, as well as when sales would be notified to Congress for their review. Media analysis suggests that perhaps about $24 billion dates to the Obama era, with the provision of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system being the most identifiable new potential sale.
On May 21, Trump addressed the Arab Islamic American Summit where he touted the deal and said, "We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship." That and other statements were widely interpreted as indicating that human rights would not be a factor in arms sales and other dealings with Saudi Arabia.
In early June, the administration notified Congress of potential sales valued at $662 million for radars and related support (June 5) and $750 million for Air Force training (June 2). Please see the tracker for all foreign military sales notifications.
Precision Guided Munitions Sale Proposed - First Battle in Congress
On May 19, Congress was notified of the potential direct commercial sale of approximately $510 million in precision-guided munitions and related services, reversing a suspension that President Obama instituted in December 2016 due to concerns regarding civilian deaths caused by Saudi actions in Yemen. (Since 2015, the United States has supported a Saudi-led coalition aligned with ousted Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi that has been fighting to capture territory in Yemen from the Houthi, who seized the capital Sanaa in 2014.)
On May 25, Senators Paul, Murphy and Franken introduced a resolution (S.J. Res 42) to block the sale, which Senator Merkley co-sponsored on June 7. Six Representatives introduced (H.J. Res 102) the same resolution in the House. Many of these members of Congress were also involved in efforts to block a US-Saudi tank deal in 2016. A vote on the Senate resolution to disapprove took place on June 13 and was blocked by a 47-53 vote - a generally unprecedented result on an arms deal.
In related efforts, Senators Murphy, Paul, Durbin and Franken introduced S.J. Res 40 to suspend certain air-to-ground munition deliveries until the U.S. president certifies that the Saudis show commitment to fighting terrorism, facilitating the flow of humanitarian and commercial goods, and to protecting civilians in Yemen. Additional sponsors have since signed onto the resolution, which would apply to precision-guided munitions in this proposed sale. A similar resolution was introduced in the House on May 25 with 6 co-sponsors -- H.J. Res 104.
Congress can block the president from concluding an agreement if both chambers pass resolutions of disapproval within 30-days of notification of a proposed deal -- in this case that appears to be June 20. As of June 1, no date had yet been set for a vote on H.J. Res 102. (Congress also can block a sale at any time up until delivery.)
On May 30, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination Stephen O'Brien addressed a special Security Council meeting on Yemen. In his testimony, O'Brien said Yemen now faces the world's largest food security crisis, "with more than 17 million people who are food insecure, 6.8 million of whom are one step away from famine." Alarmingly, a cholera outbreak has occurred, with 60,000 suspected cases since April and 150,000 new cases expected in the next six months. O'Brien predicted than an attack on Hodeida "will directly and irrevocably drive the Yemeni population further into starvation and famine."
Now that Ramadan has begun, an invasion by Saudi-UAE led forces on the port of Hodeida appears less likely until after the holiday concludes in the last week of June. Numerous members of Congress and other leaders have expressed opposition to invasion of the port, through which the majority of humanitarian and commercial goods flow into Yemen despite damage to cranes and a de facto blockade.
Last updated June 13, 2017
Key resources on this sale and situation in Yemen
Humanitarian Situation in Yemen
Legality of arms sale
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports
Additional resources from or quoting experts listed by the Forum on the Arms Trade, or by their organizations*
* Inclusion on the Forum on the Arms Trade expert list does not indicate agreement with or endorsement of the opinions of others.
Senate Vote on PGM Sale
Forum-listed experts commentary from June 13, 2017, and recap of the Senate vote on SJ Res. 42.
Potential PGM Sale
Forum-listed experts commentary from March 2017, and recap of current opposition.
2016-2017 Global Resource on Arms to Saudi Arabia in light of Yemen crisis
Features resources on other 2017 US-Saudi arms notifications and also looks beyond just the United States, including comments by experts in February 2016.
Saudi-tank deal - 2016
Expert commentary on and description of Congressional opposition in August and September 2016 on $1.15 billion battle tank sale.
Major Arms Sales Notification Tracker
From our blog
Trump's Military Only Strategy in Yemen by Kate Kizer - April 25, 2017
Trump on Arms Sales by Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick - April 25, 2017
Donald Trump and The Death of Diplomacy by William D. Hartung - April 26, 2017
Court Action to Implement the Arms Trade Treaty by Roy Isbister - December 19, 2016
October 20, 2015 event
Crisis in Yemen: Humanitarian and Security Consequences of Military Support to the Region. See archive.