On October 26, the U.S. State Department approved its first sale to Saudi Arabia, which has caused some controversy and criticism of the Biden administration. The sale included 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers (MRL) along with containers and support equipment, spare parts, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and technical support.
The sale is said to be valued at approximately $650 million according to the Pentagon, and has been assured that it would be used for defense only. A spokesperson has defended this decision, saying that this sale is a reaction to “an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year.”
According to the State Department’s spokesperson, the attacks used as reasoning for allowing the sale are “Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks”. The missiles are only a means to defend its kingdom and its people properly. This sale is considered to be “fully consistent with the administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen.”
The reasons for the controversy and criticism are multifold. In the past the U.S. has not participated in any arms deals or military sales with Saudi Arabia unless assured that these would not be used to kill civilians, and only used in defense. This was due to Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war, which has been criticized by several U.S. lawmakers.
Another reason for criticism is that the country is unfortunately known for its own humanitarian disasters, and President Joe Biden had publicly declared he would reconsider his approach to the relationship. It was considered to be a focus of his foreign policy. One of those disasters is the death of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The kingdom has not been held accountable, nor has it accepted responsibility for the death, which was caused by a team that is considered to be closely affiliated to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
As much as there is criticism, it is also important to note that Saudi Arabia makes for a strong ally to the U.S. against Iran. However, this missile sale follows the first contradictory decision from September of 2021, when the U.S. agreed to $500 million in maintenance contracts for military helicopters in Saudi Arabia.
Currently, the administration has notified Congress of the intended sale, and Congress will have 30 days to tally a vote, and either pass or reject the proposed sale. The previous Trump administration had a notoriously close-knit relationship to Saudi Arabia; something Biden had promised not to repeat just as carelessly.
In a press release the Pentagon has remarked that, “This proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East.”
The producer of the missiles is Raytheon Technologies and as of now there has been no indication that contracts have been signed.