Washington, D.C. — June 13, 2017 — On Tuesday June 13, in a rare vote on legislation to block an arms sale, the Senate voted 53-47 against blocking a $510 million sale of precision guided munitions and related military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The vote occurred amid growing criticism from members of Congress regarding U.S. support for a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen’s civil war that began over two years ago. The U.S. has played a key role in facilitating the intervention, providing the coalition intelligence and logistical support, and arming coalition states with tens of billions of dollars worth of advanced weaponry since the start of the intervention.
Last week, 41 peace and human rights organizations sent a letter to the Senate encouraging senators to oppose to the munitions sale. According to Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action, one of the organizations signed onto the letter, “in voting to greenlight the sale of more bombs to the Saudi Arabia, the Senate effectively endorsed the kingdom’s brutal tactics in its disastrous intervention in Yemen.”
“Since the start of the intervention over two years ago, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools and mosques, marketplaces and food factories, weddings and funerals,” continued Rainwater. “The destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure and a coalition blockade have also choked Yemen’s access to food, fuel and medical supplies, leading to one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet.”
The United Nations and human rights groups have documented repeated failures on the part of the Saudi coalition to differentiate between military and civilian targets. Citing those failures, the U.N. has said that the coalition is responsible for a majority of the thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war. The coalition has also been blamed for contributing to the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, where millions are on the brink of starvation, and over 100,000 have contracted cholera since April.
“With fragments of U.S.-made bombs often found in the rubble, America’s role in the carnage hasn’t been lost on the people of Yemen, nor on many Americans,” said Rainwater. “In recent weeks, thousands of Americans contacted their members of Congress demanding they oppose this arms sale. Today, they gave one of the most powerful and well-financed lobbies in Washington—the arms industry—a run for its money.”
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Al Franken (D-CT) introduced the legislation that teed up the vote, S.J.Res. 42. With 47 senators supporting the joint resolution, the vote marks a significant shift in congressional opinion on the issue since a similar effort to block a sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia failed last September in a 27-71 vote.
Speaking to next steps, Rainwater concluded, “while the Senate failed to block the sale outright, the close vote sent a clear message to the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia that the status quo won’t last. Until we know that message is being taken seriously, Americans must continue pressing their members of Congress to oppose U.S. support for the intervention. Instead of continuing to fuel the fire, the U.S. should lead an international effort to find a political solution to the war and ensure humanitarian aid finds its way to the millions of Yemen’s who could lose their lives without it.”
Founded in 1957, Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze), the United States’ largest peace and disarmament organization, with over 100,000 paid members and nearly 100 chapters in 36 states, works to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending priorities that support human needs, encourage real security through international cooperation and human rights and support nonmilitary solutions to international conflicts. The public may learn more and take action at http://www.PeaceAction.org.