Arms Sales to Saudi Coalition
The United States currently supplies numerous allied Middle Eastern states with weapons and equipment. Some of the most controversial purchases have been made by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states fighting in Yemen against the militant group Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthi movement, which receives Iranian support. Reports of horrific civilian casualties caused by U.S-made weapons have sparked political conflict between the administration of Donald Trump and many members of Congress as well as the general public, most recently when the Trump administration used a clause of the 1976 Arms Export Control Act to override the need for Congressional approval of several sales. The connection between arms sales and violence in Yemen has also inspired a failed attempt in Congress to use a War Powers Resolution to assert legislative authority over U.S. military involvement.
The candidate opposes ending military aid to Saudi Arabia and coalition allies. On an initial trip to the Kingdom in May 2017, he claimed to have brokered an arms deal worth $110 billion. Since then, he has vigorously defended the supply of weapons to the Saudis and other states. He has expressed the view that the sales help protect Americans living in the Middle East, strengthen Saudi Arabia's defenses, deter Iranian influence, support the security of the U.S. and its allies, benefit the defense industry, and shorten the war in Yemen by making it easier for the Saudi coalition to win.
Memorandum to the U.S. Senate accompanying the veto of S.J. Res. 38, which sought to block export licenses on defense goods to Saudi Arabia, July 24, 2019.
"The United States is providing the licenses that the joint resolution seeks to prohibit for many reasons. First and foremost, it is our solemn duty to protect the safety of the more than 80,000 United States citizens who reside in Saudi Arabia and who are imperiled by Houthi attacks from Yemen. The Houthis, supported by Iran, have attacked civilian and military facilities using missiles, armed drones, and explosive boats, including in areas frequented by United States citizens, such as the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Second, the joint resolution would degrade Saudi Arabia’s military preparedness and ability to protect its sovereignty, directly affecting its ability to defend United States military personnel hosted there. Third, Saudi Arabia is a bulwark against the malign activities of Iran and its proxies in the region, and the licenses the joint resolution would prohibit enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to deter and defend against these threats.
In addition, S.J. Res. 38 would negatively affect our NATO Allies and the transatlantic defense industry. It could, for example, produce unintended consequences for defense procurement and interoperability with and between our partners. It could also create diplomatic and security opportunities for our adversaries to exploit.
Finally, by restricting the ability of our partners to produce and purchase precision-guided munitions, S.J. Res. 38 would likely prolong the conflict in Yemen and deepen the suffering it causes. By undermining bilateral relationships of the United States and impeding our ability to support key partners at a critical time, the joint resolution would harm — not help — efforts to end the conflict in Yemen. And without precision-guided munitions, more — not fewer — civilians are likely to become casualties of the conflict. While I share concerns that certain Members of Congress have expressed about civilian casualties of this conflict, the United States has taken and will continue to take action to minimize such casualties, including training and advising the Saudi-led Coalition forces to improve their targeting processes."
Remarks before working breakfast with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, June 28, 2019
"We’ve had some meetings on trade and economic development and on the military, of course. And the meetings have been really terrific. As you know, Saudi Arabia is a purchaser of American products and especially of America military equipment. We make the best in the world, by far. And we appreciate that they do. They create — at least a million jobs are created by the purchases made by Saudi Arabia."
Statement issued November 20, 2018
"After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!"
Remarks at defense roundtable, October 20, 2018
"I know it sounds easy and it sounds good, and a lot people have said, “Oh, let’s just not sell them a $110-billion order.” I guess you take it a step further, “Let’s not sell them $450 billion,” which is the largest order in the history of our country. I went there to get that order. Saudi Arabia was my first stop. And everyone thought that was unusual. But I said, I want to order — “I want you to order a tremendous amount of stuff.” Right? Everything. Your stuff and everybody’s stuff. And Wilbur [Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross] was there. They ordered $450 billion. There’s never been anything like it, or close.The last thing I want to do is say we’re not going to supply you with that, and therefore we’re going to cut — I guess, if you add the whole thing up, because just for the military was 600,000 jobs. So now if you’re talking about — that was $110 billion — you know, you’re talking about over a million jobs. You know, I’d rather keep the million jobs, and I’d rather find another solution."
The candidate supports an end to military and other aid to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Although recognizing the strategic role of Saudi Arabia, Biden has favored withdrawing military aid to the kingdom while the Yemen conflict continues. The Obama administration in which he served as Vice President approved many arms sales to Saudi Arabia, although his personal views on them during this time are unclear. As chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during the George H. W. Bush administration, he was cautious about sales to the Kingdom.
Response to Council on Foreign Policy questionnaire, August 1, 2019
"I would end U.S. support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is past time to restore a sense of balance, perspective, and fidelity to our values in our relationships in the Middle East. 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. Among the most shameful moments of this presidency came after the brutal Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as Trump defended not the slain U.S. resident but his killers. America’s priorities in the Middle East should be set in Washington, not Riyadh.
President Trump’s first overseas trip was to Saudi Arabia. As President, I will rally the world’s democracies and our allies in the Free World. We will make clear that America will never again check its principles at the door just to buy oil or sell weapons. We should recognize the value of cooperation on counterterrorism and deterring Iran. But America needs to insist on responsible Saudi actions and impose consequences for reckless ones. I would want to hear how Saudi Arabia intends to change its approach to work with a more responsible U.S. administration."
The candidate supports ending military and other aid to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Warren co-sponsored a measure to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia as early as 2017, one of the first senators to do so. She voted (See also S.J. Res. 36, 38) June 20, 2019 in favor of a package of 22 joint resolutions in the Senate, later vetoed by Trump, designed to prohibit various arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. She is in favor of ending all support with the exception of operations against al-Qaeda and other terror groups.
Response to Council on Foreign Relations questionnaire, September 16, 2019
"Saudi Arabia has increasingly pursued a regional and international agenda that does not align with U.S. interests. The Saudi-led war in Yemen exacerbates instability and extremism in the region and has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Saudi policies in Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt and its irresponsible conflict with Qatar undermine U.S. security. The Saudi government’s role in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its repression of its own citizens insults all who respect human rights and calls into question its reliability as a partner.
While the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will continue to share common objectives -- for example to prevent terrorism in the region -- it is time to reorient our policy in the region away from a reflexive embrace of the Saudi regime and toward one that focuses on U.S. interests. We must be crystal clear about our expectations if Saudi Arabia wants a real partnership. If the Saudi regime is unable or unwilling to meet those expectations, they can expect real consequences in terms of a more limited relationship moving forward."
Speech at American University, November 29, 2018
"U.S. counterterrorism efforts have often undermined other efforts to reinforce civilian governance, the rule of law, and human rights abroad. We have partnered with countries that share neither our goals nor our values. In some cases, as with our support for Saudi Arabia’s proxy war in Yemen, U.S. policies risk generating even more extremism. [...]
How do we responsibly cut back? We can start by ending the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy. It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called “Big Five” defense contractors-and taxpayers are picking up the bill.
If you’re skeptical that this a problem, consider this: the President of the United States has refused to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia in part because he is more interested in appeasing U.S. defense contractors than holding the Saudis accountable for the murder of a Washington Post journalist or for the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed by those weapons.
The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table- but they shouldn’t get to own the table."
Op-ed published by CNN, October 8, 2018
"The administration's decision to double down on US support for the bombing campaign makes a mockery of congressional oversight authority. Overlooking the Saudi-led coalition's apparent disregard for international norms and laws of armed conflict does nothing to improve US standing in the world. And continuing to support an ill-conceived proxy war in Yemen does not make America safer.
The framers of our Constitution believed that the decision to involve ourselves in a conflict like the one in Yemen requires the consent of the people, expressed through their elected representatives. But Congress has never authorized our involvement in this conflict. That's why we have supported bicameral, bipartisan efforts to end the US involvement in Yemen's civil war unless Congress specifically authorizes it.
While counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and its affiliates would continue, support for the Saudi coalition's military operations against the Houthis would stop."
The candidate supports ending military and other aid to Saudi Arabia and its allies. Sanders supports completely ending the arms trade with Saudi Arabia. He voted (See also S.J. Res. 36, 38) in favor of measures to stop the trade and helped lead the effort to override Trump's veto regarding emergency arms sales. Sanders also sponsored a War Powers Resolution, S.J. Res.7, which would withdraw other forms of military assistance to the Saudi coalition including refueling and support. It passed both houses of Congress and reached the President's desk before being vetoed.
Press release following Saudi bombing, September 3, 2019
“U.S. logistical support, spare-parts transfers and intelligence sharing for the Saudi dictatorship's airstrikes make us complicit in this nightmare. By passing our bill earlier this year, the House and Senate have spoken: America’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war is unconstitutional and must end immediately. Now we must use Congress’s power of the purse to block every nickel of taxpayer money from going to assist the Saudi dictatorship as it bombs and starves civilians in Yemen."
Response to Council on Foreign Policy questionnaire, July 30, 2019
"The reality is that the U.S.-Saudi relationship needs to change. It is based on cheap oil, millions of dollars of arms sales, a complete disregard for Saudi Arabia's human rights violations, and willful blindness when it comes to Saudi's spread of religious radicalism. We must immediately end our support for Saudi Arabia's carnage in Yemen and clearly signal Riyadh that we categorically reject their not-too-unsubtle efforts to drag the US into a conflict with Iran. But we must also recognize that for the sake of stability in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia needs to be part of the solution. It’s a hard reality that the United States sometimes has to work with undemocratic governments to protect our own security, but we should also recognize that relying on corrupt authoritarian regimes to deliver us security is a losing bet. Democratic governments that are accountable to their own people, which share our values and have open societies make far better partners in the long term."
2nd Democratic Debate, June 27, 2019
"One of the differences that Joe and I have in our record is Joe voted for that war [in Iraq]. I helped lead the opposition to that war, which is a total disaster. Second of all, I helped lead the effort for the first time to utilize the War Powers Act, to get the United States out of the Saudi- led intervention in Yemen, which is the most horrific humanitarian disaster on Earth."
Press Release accompanying support for joint resolutions to block arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, June 20, 2019
“Repeatedly, we see this president using phony ‘emergency’ declarations to sidestep the law to get what he wants. The fact that he is transferring these weapons at a time when the Saudis and Emiratis are waging a catastrophic war in Yemen, a war that a bipartisan majority in Congress has declared to be unauthorized and illegal, is even more outrageous.
“It’s time for the president to respect the will of a convincing majority of the Senate and follow the law. I will do everything I can to assert Congress’s power over the purse to end the war in Yemen and block these weapons from being used by the Saudis in that war."