MIDDLE EAST

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia more than money, rather a sign of political might

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the Lockheed Martin company, San Francisco, April 6.

Other than Germany and Austria, a number of Western countries, including the U.S., have so far rejected halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it is feared that Riyadh may look to Russia and China

Saudi Arabia's economy is largely dependent on imports as the country's production is at very low rates. The only good that keeps Saudi Arabia's economy high is oil. Experts call this a rent-seeking economy where the economy depends on the production of a high-valuedmaterial. Saudi Arabia imports many essential materials from abroad, including food, electronic devices and, most importantly, arms. Considering that the country has been engaged in an endless war in Yemen, halting arms sales would be a way of sanctioning the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

It has been proven that the journalist was murdered inside the consulate. The journalist went missing at the beginning of this month. Saudi Arabia followed a policy of denying the allegations, but in the end the Riyadh administration admitted that its officials were responsible for murdering the journalist. International outrage has been increasing as several European countries have decided to revise their relations with Saudi Arabia.

Several Western countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, the U.K. and Spain, sell arms to the kingdom, which has been one of the world's largest arms importers. Since the war broke out in Yemen in 2015, procurement increased sharply, showing that the country has become heavily dependent on arms imports since then.

Germany was the first country to declare that it would halt arms sales and called on others to make a similar decision. However, neither the U.S. nor France have responded positively to this call. For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed this call as "demagoguery."

"What's the link between arms sales and Mr. Khashoggi's murder? I understand the connection with what's happening in Yemen, but there is no link with Mr. Khashoggi," he said on Friday.

Yet, any decision as such taken by France would be a blow to Saudi Arabia's ambitions in the region, particularly in Yemen, because France is its second-biggest arms exporter at $13.8 billion. Similarly, Spain's socialist government defended the arms sales, stating that it was in the country's "interests" to keep selling arms. "If you ask me where I stand today, it is in the defense of the interests of Spain, of jobs in strategic sectors in areas badly affected by the drama that is unemployment," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament. In July, Spain signed a deal worth $2 billion to supply navy ships. Moreover, the Spanish government last month decided to sell 400 laser-guided bombs as well. Apparently, there are two countries in the EU that defend the halting of arms sales. Besides Germany, Austria also called to stop the arms sales, underlining that it would help end "the terrible war in Yemen."

One main concern in the West about halting arms sales is the fact that Russia and China are ready to sell weapons without commenting on any action targeting human rights. The U.S. is concerned that Russia's arms delivery to any country accounts for more than half of Saudi Arabia's arms imports, according to research group IHS Markit. The same group has documented that arms sales by the U.S. amounted to $7.3 billion last year, while it was less than $2 billion a decade ago. Therefore, the U.S. believes the sale of arms is an important factor in keeping Riyadh on its side.

Similar to this concern, regarding Russia and China, Saudi Arabia cannot be lost by the West as Riyadh explicitly opposes Iran and its actions in the Middle East. Both the U.S. and its main ally in the region, Israel, consider Iran as a threat; thus, Saudi Arabia is essential for the struggle against Tehran.

In conclusion, it is clear that the amount gained from arms sales to Saudi Arabia may not be crucial for Western economies, but plays a political role, especially in preventing Russia and China from taking the lead in the arms sales sector, which could easily be used as a political factor.

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