The Obama administration is expected to request Congressional approval for the sale of $60 billion of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Stephen Kurczy writing in the Christian Science Monitor reports that the largest weapon sale in history is unlikely to invoke much criticism given U.S. efforts to contain Iran. Saudi Arabia is already the largest consumer of U.S. weapons at $76 billion since 1950 and dwarfs the next two largest consumers Egypt ($31.6 billion) and Israel ($30.5 billion). The following table is from my latest book Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military.
Foreign Military Sales Top Recipient Countries (FY1950-2008)
South Korea 17,832,626
United Kingdom 17,122,511
The dollar values includes purchases made through direct commercial sales (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and sales using foreign military financing by the U.S. government (e.g. Egypt). The Department of State Political-Military Affairs Bureau and the Department of Defense's Defense Security Cooperation Agency manage these programs.
The sale is significant because it also signals a continuation of the long-term partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia. With this sale (and the existing ones), the United States commits to long-term parts, maintenance, and training contracts too. Saudi officers and enlisted personnel will continue to train in the United States and U.S. officers and contractors will continue to work in Saudi Arabia.
For this sale, it is easy to point to Iran as the explanation or the 75,000 jobs purportedly impacted by this, but there are four inter-related reasons the United States sells weapons and training to nearly every country in the world.
- Create favorable balance of power conditions. This clearly underlies the sale to Saudi Arabia
- Harmonize areas of defense cooperation. The U.S. relationship with Israel, Japan, or UK epitomize this point.
- Promote self-defense of U.S. partners. With the United States providing global security, the goal is for friendly countries to make U.S. forward presence redundant.
- Prevent crises and regionalizing national or local conflicts. Plan Colombia is probably the best example.