A report this month by the U.S. State Department Office of Inspector General found that the department had not broken the law in selling a potential of $8 billion worth of arms on an emergency basis to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to employ against Yemenese Houthi forces.
Yet, the report also finds fault with the department in not doing enough to avoid civilian casualties and in selling arms requiring notification below the congressional notification dollar amount threshhold limits.
Included in the approved sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE were a number of precision guided munitions, fuses and missiles, including nearly $1.6 billion for Lockheed Martin
[LMT] and Raytheon [RTX] Paveway and Enhanced Paveway PGMs for the Royal Saudi Air Force F-15, Tornado, and Eurofighter aircraft; $900 million for BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) for the UAE; nearly $685 million for Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick PGMs, Paveway and Enhanced Paveways for the UAE; $356 million for Raytheon’s Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM-T) for the UAE; $325 million for integration of the Kaman [KAMN] FMU-152A/B Joint Programmable Bomb Fuze system for the UAE; and $209 million for the Thales’ Aurora Fuzing System for the Raytheon Paveway IVs for the UAE.
On May 24 last year, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that he had directed the State Department “to complete immediately the formal notification of 22 pending arms transfers” to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Pompeo invoked the Section 36 emergency provisions of the Arms Control Export Act (AECA). The proposed transfers included services and an agreement to coproduce and manufacture components of the Paveways in Saudi Arabia. On June 20 last year, the Senate passed S.J.Res. 36, which prohibited both the Paveway coproduction agreement and the transfer of additional munitions, and S.J.Res. 38, which prohibited transfers of “defense articles, defense services, and technical data to support the manufacture of the Aurora Fuzing System for the Paveway IV Precision Guided Bomb Program.” The same day, the Senate passed en bloc another 20 resolutions of disapproval prohibiting the remaining notified transfers. The House passed S.J. Res. 36 and S.J. Res. 38 on July 17 last year. The same day, the House also passed S.J.Res. 37, which prohibited the transfer to the UAE of “defense articles, defense services, and technical data to support the integration, operation, training, testing, repair, and operational level maintenance” of the Maverick AGM-65 air-to-surface guided missile and several Paveway systems for use on a number of Emirati-operated aircraft. The resolution also prohibited the transfer of a number of Paveway munitions to the UAE. President Trump vetoed the three bills on July 24 last year, and a Senate vote five days later failed to override the vetoes.
While the UAE has mostly withdrawn from Yemen in the last year, Saudi forces remain.
“The United States has taken a number of actions to help the Saudi military mitigate the risk of civilian casualties in Yemen, including training and advising the Saudi military to help them improve their targeting processes to minimize civilian casualties. Combined with this assistance, the provision of precision-guided munitions would further help the Saudis mitigate the risk of civilian casualties,” according to a Statement of Administration Policy in July last year opposing S.J. Res. 38.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Under Section 36(b) of AECA, Congress must be formally notified 30 calendar days before the executive branch is able to finalize a government-to-government foreign military sale of major defense equipment valued at $14 million or more, defense articles or services valued at $50 million or more, or design and construction services valued at $200 million or more. Certain articles or services listed on the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime are also subject to a variety of additional reporting requirements.
“The AECA does not define the term ’emergency,'” according to the OIG report. “Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary [Mike Pompeo]’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.”
“OIG determined that the secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA,” the report said. “However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of [precision guided munitions] PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification. In addition, OIG found the department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law.”
Amnesty International has documented cases in which PGMs have killed families in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.
As the report neared finalization, Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in May–the fifth IG to be fired by Trump, and the latter appointed Stephen Akard as acting State Department IG. Akard then recused himself from making decisions on the report, and Diana Shaw signed off on the report as acting IG on Aug. 10.