WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 to place new conditions on future air-to-ground munitions sales to Saudi Arabia. Similar to a joint resolution the pair introduced earlier this year, the amendment would increase Congressional oversight in military sales to Saudi Arabia, which has led a military campaign in Yemen with devastating humanitarian consequences and a security vacuum that has empowered our terrorist enemies al Qaeda and ISIS. The Murphy-Paul amendment would require the President of the United States to formally certify that the Government of Saudi Arabia is demonstrating an ongoing effort to target terrorist groups, minimize harm to civilians, and facilitate humanitarian assistance before Congress can consider the sale or transfer of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia is an important partner, but the United States needs to recognize when a friend’s actions are not in our national interest. There’s no evidence that the Saudi campaign in Yemen, enabled by the United States, advances our interests or makes us any safer. In fact, the civil war in Yemen is prolonging human suffering and playing into the hands of the same terrorist groups that are working to attack Americans,” said Murphy. “As the humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate, anti-American sentiment is spiking as locals blame the U.S. for the thousands of civilians killed in the coalition bombing campaign. This will come back to haunt us. We need to put real conditions on our military aid to the Saudis to ensure their proxy wars with Iran do not distract them from the fight against violent extremist groups like ISIS.”
“For too long the Obama administration has not been holding countries receiving U.S. military munitions accountable in the Middle East. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia’s record on strictly targeting combatants and legitimate military targets in Yemen has been questionable. I believe, along with Sen. Murphy, that the U.S. should halt the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia until Congress has conducted proper oversight and ensured that such munitions are being used in a way that is consistent with our country’s national security strategy and values,” Paul said.
Under current law outlined in the Arms Export Control Act, the sale or transfer of arms to foreign governments by the United States must be proposed by the U.S. State Department and then approved by Congress. If Congress approves the sale, the Administration is then permitted to finalize and implement the transfer. The Murphy-Paul amendment would add a step to the approval process by requiring the President of the United States to attest that Saudi Arabia is concretely demonstrating its anti-terror efforts and protection of civilians before Congress can consider the sale. The President’s certification will assess whether Saudi Arabia has used U.S.-origin munitions in attacks against civilians in Yemen, how that affects U.S. credibility in the region, and how defense sales to Saudi Arabia contribute to U.S. national security objectives.
Murphy has repeatedly expressed concern that U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia’s military actions against Houthi rebels in Yemen threatens our own national security interests. In an address at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this year, Murphy noted the positive and cooperative components of the United States’ alliance with Saudi Arabia, but specifically criticized their support for spreading intolerance and called for our nation to suspend supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen until we are sure it does not distract from the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda. March 26, 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen.
Under this amendment, the President’s certification must attest the following conditions are met:
1. The Government of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are taking all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, in the course of military action undertaken in their self-defense as described in section 4 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2754).
2. The Government of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are making demonstrable efforts to facilitate both humanitarian assistance and commercial goods, including commercial fuel and commodities not prohibited by UN Security Council Resolution 2216 (2015).
3. The Government of Saudi Arabia is taking all necessary measures to target designated foreign terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as part of its military operations in Yemen.