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Arms Sales in the Middle East: Trends and Analytical Perspectives for U.S. Policy

CRS report via FAS – Arms Sales in the Middle East: Trends and Analytical Perspectives for U.S. Policy, Clayton Thomas, Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs. October 11, 2017.

“This report analyzes state-to-state arms sales in the Middle East with a particular focus on U.S.transfers, as authorized and reviewed by Congress.The information in this report, including sales data, is drawn from a number of official and unofficial open sources.Arms sales are an important tool that states can use to exercise their influence. The Middle East has long been a key driver of the global trade in weapons, disproportionately so when accounting for population. Some states in this heavily-militarized and contested region are major arms purchasers, empowered by partnerships with outside supporters and wealth derived from vast energy reserves. In part due to external relation ships, some Middle Eastern countries have developed and continue to develop military industrial bases that supply some of their own defense needs and/or generate profits through arms exports. Congress has constitutional powers and a number of legal prerogatives related to arms sales. In some cases, these powers and prerogatives allow Members to exert considerable influence over foreign sales. Because of the large quantity of U.S. arms sold to Middle Eastern states, a number of key historical episodes involving executive – legislative interaction on arms sales relate to the Middle East. Given that some U.S. policymakers across party lines have expressed support for a smaller military footprint in the Middle East, and that executive branch strategic documents have increasingly emphasized “building partner capacity” to advance U.S. strategic goals , arms sales could become increasingly important to U.S. foreign policy in the region. This shift would expand Congress’s role in the formation and direction of that policy. The United States is the single largest arms supplier to the Middle East and has been for decades. However, other major producers like Russia, France, and China are also key players in the region  Their respective strategies and goals for arms sales appear to differ in some ways. This report focuses on recent arms sales , primarily from the United States, to seven Middle Eastern states: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, Turkey, and Qatar. These states,some of the region’s largest arms purchasers, have taken a range of approaches as they assess various means of pursuing influence and security in an unstable region. Some appear to be increasing their commitment to the United States as their primary security guarantor, while others may be interested both in building up their own domestic arms production capabilities and in seeking out alternative suppliers. When considering domestic or non-U.S. procurement, these states may focus on indications of U.S. military or political commitment to the region or U.S. willingness to share technology relative to other potential suppliers. Still others may incorporate aspects of various approaches as they consider how arms purchases from the United States or others fit in to their broader foreign and defense policies. This report concludes by considering a number of arms sales-related issues of congressional interest . Arms sales are often a key component in Congress’s approach to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives, such as preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors and countering Iran’s regional influence. Arms transfer policy often figures prominently in the U.S. approach to specific ongoing crises, like the Saudi-led coalition’s military effort in Yemen. In addition, arms sales can factor into broader policy issues, such as human rights and the content and balance of U.S. foreign assistance. The report discusses a number of options available to Members of Congress, including those related to oversight, reporting requirements, checks on executive action, and conditions on transfers or funding.”

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