The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) is troubled by the State Department approving a potential $23 billion in military arms transactions to the United Arab Emirates. We are also concerned by the State Department’s support of a deal worth $10.4 billion for 50 F-35’s, but a sale worth $10 billion for air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. And lastly, a sale of 18 MQ-9B unmanned aerial systems (UAS) worth a potential $3 billion. 

Although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the sales’ approval is “in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran.” One should acknowledge that the UAE is noted to be a known aggressor in the region and is a country that is actively involved in the war in Yemen with Saudi Arabia. Evidence pointing to these allegations should also be taken into account that there are substantial money laundering allegations between the UAE Central Bank and Iran meaning the UAE has been avoiding U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that, “Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success. The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.” Secretary Pompeo’s certainty that Israel will maintain its military edge over other countries in the Middle Eastern region alludes to the understanding that Israel will also be receiving more advanced defense technologies from the United States.

With the recent firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on November 9th and the state departments’ approval of the $23 billion arms deal on November 10th, the timing is quite alarming. Mike Esper was an important individual who was given the job to reassure Israel leadership that they would maintain their qualitative edge in the region. NYCFPA believes this has emerged as a reckless maneuver made to appease a questionable player in the region. Thus posing a tremendous national security risk at a time of transition.

Part of the proposed arms package from the State Department contains unmanned aerial systems. On July 24th, the Trump administration announced a unilateral change to the United States’ export policy for UAS, downgrading the classification of a specific subset of UAS to ensure their export. As one would expect, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia immediately expressed their interest in the available UAS. These changes will now benefit UAE in the potential arms sales because they are included in the State Department’s approved package, now more likely to be used in Yemen.

NYFCPA presumes that providing more advanced weaponry to the Middle Eastern region will make it more plausible for other countries to purchase and exchange the nation’s modern weaponry to our adversaries. The current administration’s recent peace deals in the Middle Eastern region have been notable. However, it brings grave concern that the administration is now pushing for more sophisticated technology in the region. NYCFPA believes that, when advocating for peace in the Middle East, it should be without expanding access to our most stealth aircraft capabilities and contributing to potential violence that will unfold in the region’s instability.

With the UAE having a track record of being irresponsible with weapons given to them in the past, it is evident that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Congress should consider the consequences that can stem from such momentous arms deals. We understand that the State Departments’ approval does not finalize these arms sales with the UAE and understand that Congress still needs to approve such contracts. Furthermore, NYCFPA calls on both the House and Senate to reject these sales, potentially contributing to an arms race in the Middle Eastern region. By the rejection of such a proposal, this will help strengthen the U.S. national security and our interest.

Justin Russell, the NYCFPA’s Principal Director, states, “With this deal going forward, the U.S. is setting a baseline for a very dangerous proliferation of weapons in the region and is enabling an arms race to start in the Middle East.”

Russell adds, “NYCFPA also calls on the incoming Biden administration to reconsider this deal for the benefit of peace in the region.”

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