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The Saudi Arms Sales Case: Introduction

[Bibliography, Daily Update, Affirmative Essay, Negative Essay]

Introduction to Saudi Arabia

The country of Saudi Arabia sits in on of the most significant regions of the world — the Gulf region in the Middle East.

This area is significant for a number of reasons.

First, geography.  Saudi Arabia sits in the center of the Middle Easts most intractable regions — The Middle East.

This broad world map shows where Saudi Arabia falls —

This regional map provides a close look.

To the southwest, is Yemen.

Since 2015, the Saudis have been engaged in a war with the Houthi rebels that overthrew a Saudi backed government in Yemen.

These rebels are aligned with Iran, which you can see to the right of Saudi Arabia across the Persian Gulf.

The Sunni government is largely composed of Sunnis, one of the two leading sects of Islam. The Iranian government is largely composed of Shiites, the other major sect of Islam.  Iran is aligned with The Syrian government, which you can see to the north.

Both Iran and Syria are considered enemies of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia fears Iranian aggress.  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is aligned with Saudi Arabia generally and specifically in the war in Yemen.

You can also see Iraq, which the US has fought two wars against and where thousands of troops remain deployed to the north as well.

Arms Purchases

Second, arms sales. In addition to having geographic significance, Saudi Arabia is especially relevant to this topic because it is the world’s number one arms importer:

Alex Janiud, January 3, 2019. Investor’s Chronicle, Instability in Saudi Arabia

According to research from Jane’s by IHS Markit, Saudi Arabia is the biggest arms importer on the planet, with more than $7.7bn-worth of imports agreed in 2018.

These arms purchases continue to increase –

And the US is the largest supplier of said weapons —

Ken Hanly, May 1, 2019,  DOA: 5-1, 19

In 2017 the US signed a humongous arms deal with the Saudis: “On May 20, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling US$110 billion immediately,[1][2] and $350 billion over 10 years.[3][4] The intended purchases include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, as well as radar, communications and cybersecurity technology. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region[5][6] and a “significant” and “historic” expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the key countries that can assure that the US military industrial complex continues to enjoy large sales and profits during the coming years.

Read more:

This is one thing that Obama did that  Trump is very proud of —


One very important individual to understand related to this topic is MBS — Mohammad Bin Salman — the man seated to the left of President Trump.

MBS is the son of the current king (Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, meaning it is ruled by a royal family, of which the king is the head). He is officially the “Crowne Prince,” which means that he will become the king when his father, King Salman, passes.

Officially, MBS is the Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia.

MBS is controversial for a number of reasons.

First, MBS was the defense minister when the war in Yemen started and most consider him to be responsible for that war, a war that has produced a humanitarian catastrophe.

Second, although he was originally presented as a reformer, allowing women to drive and attend sporting events, it is now likely that he has overseen widespread torture of political opponents.  Recently, Saudi Arabia executed 37 individuals who were accused of nothing more than protesting the regime.

Of particular significance to this topic is that last fall MBS ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  Mr. Khashoggi was a journalist for the Washington Post who frequently wrote articles that were critical of MBS and the Saudi regime.

Mr. Khassogi was living in Washington, DC, but needed to get a certificate in order to get married in the US.  The Saudis told him to go get it in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. When he did, a security detail that was detached by MBS killed him, cut up his body, and carried him out in small bags.

When foreign intelligence discovered this was order by MBS, there was a significant revolt against western ties to Saudi Arabia and many in Congress, especially the Democrats, requested that Trump cut ties, including by reducing (or eliminating) arms sales.

Arms Sales and Where We Stand Now

There has been substantial political pressure to reduce arms sales, but the Trump administration has blocked all efforts, arguing the sales are important to the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and that the weapons exports provide critical revenue for US defense contractors and jobs in the US. Trump argues that if the US doesn’t sell the weapons that Saudi Arabia will simply start buying them from Russia and Iran.

Substantial political support did lead Congress to pass a resolution demanding that Trump cut off arms sales until Saudi Arabia stopped its aggression in Yemen, but Trump vetoed the law (Trump can veto legislation unless Congress can overrride his veto with a 2/3 majority).

The Wall Street Journal reported on April 16, 2019.

President Trump issued the second veto of his presidency, refusing to sign a congressional resolution that would have ended America’s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Mr. Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.” The House and Senate had passed the resolution in a move to admonish the Trump administration over its support for Saudi Arabia. Its passage was a sign of the frustration on Capitol Hill with the Trump administration’s support for the kingdom after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents last year. Had Mr. Trump signed the resolution, the White House would have had 30 days to end U.S. military aid for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, a years long conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

So the sales will continue.

The exact value of the sales is difficult to determine. Although Trump claims the sales represent $100 billion worth of exports (exports are sales of products to other countries), many argue that most of the sales have already been completed.

Regardless of the value, the US does continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and many argue that the US should cut-off (or reduce) the sale of those weapons in order to prevent the Saudis from executing the war in Yemen; to take a stand in favor of the protection of human rights, journalistic freedom, democracy; to advance US soft power (how much other countries like us); to uphold international law; to act morally; and to prevent the arms from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Negative teams will argue that the exports are important to the US economy; that it is bad to develop the defense industries of alternative suppliers like Russia and China; that we need to help the Saudis defeat the Houthis; that we need to deter Iran; that Saudi access to conventional weapons means the won’t develop nuclear weapons; and  that strong US-Saudi relations are important to military power projection in the region and protecting the stable supply of low cost oil (Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of oil in the world).


Anyhow, there is a very good debate about this topic and that debate will continue since it is a very hot topic.

In the next essays we will review the Affirmative and Negative essays. The Affirmative essay is available with registration and the Negaive essay is available to subscribers.

Affirmative Essay,

Review Questions

  1. Why does the US continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia?

(a) To make money
(b) To kill Houthis
(c)  To advance its interests in the Middle East
(d) All of the above

2. What is the biggest problem with continuing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia?

(a) The weapons are heavy
(b) They are misused
(c) They kill people in Yemen
(d) All of the above

3. Who is MSB and why is he important to debates on this issue?

(a) The King of Saudi Arabia
(b) The son of the King of Saudi Arabia
(c) The Deputy Prime Minister
(d) B & C
(e) All of the above

4. What is Islam and what are the two major sects of Islam?

(a) A religion
(b) A political ideology
(c) A God
(d) A & C

5. Soft power is

(a) Weak power
(b) Hard power
(c)  How well a country is liked
(d) All of the above


Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). Son of King Salman, expected to be the next King of Saudi Arabia

Jamal Khashoggi. Journalist who was murdered by the Saudi government for his anti-Saudi views.


Islam. Islam is a monotheistic (believes there is one God) and that  Muhammad is the messenger of God.  With 1.2 billion followers, it is the second largest religion in the world.

Sunni.  Sunni Islam (/ˈsniˈsʊni/) is the largest denomination of Islam, followed by 75-90% of the world’s Muslims.[1] Its name comes from the word sunnah, referring to the behaviour of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[2] The differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims arose from a disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and subsequently acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridicaldimensions[Wikipedia]

Shia.  Shia Islam is one of the two main branches of Islam. It holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and the Imam after him, most notably at the event of Ghadir Khumm, but was prevented from the caliphate as a result of the incident of Saqifah.

al-Qa’ida. Usually spelled Al Qaeda, it is a major terrorist organization that is responsible for the September 11th attacks on the US.

ISIS. Islamic State of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  A terrorist group that was formed in relatively recent history after the collapse of order in Iraq. It is responsible for many terror attacks, but most people say its influence and operational capacity has largely decline.

Soft power. Soft power refers to how much other countries like a particular country.

Counterterrorism. Policy and military efforts that are designed to defeat terrorism.

Houthi. The Houthis are a rebel group in Yemen that overthrew the original Saudi-backed Yemen government. It is backed by Iran.