Today heads of state will be gathering in Brussels for the first NATO summit since Donald Trump assumed the Presidency of the United States of America. With Trump at the helm, it has become the norm to expect the unexpected when it comes to issues of foreign policy. His decision to kick off his first foreign tour in Saudi Arabia is proof of that.
But in reality it will be business as usual for the United States, which in recent years has been perfecting doublespeak on issues of security and counter-terrorism: publicly projecting itself as a credible leader when it comes to defense, but all the while supplying arms, on a massive scale, to countries plagued by insecurity, armed groups and serious human rights violations.
The latest revelation from Amnesty International that the U.S. military has failed to properly monitor the whereabouts of $1 billion worth of arms in Iraq and Kuwait is damning proof of this reckless and irresponsible approach to security.
Following a Freedom of Information Act request, we were able to obtain a now declassified Department of Defense audit from September 2016. It revealed that the department did not have accurate, up-to-date records on the quantity and location of a vast amount of equipment pouring into Kuwait and Iraq to supply the Iraqi Army; and that the Department washed its hands of its responsibilities once it had handed the weapons over to the Iraqis who are known to have extremely poor stockpile controls.
Included in the transfers were tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of mortar rounds and hundreds of Humvee armored vehicles. I do not need to tell you how much damage and suffering these weapons can inflict. You have already seen the images of bullet and shrapnel-ridden bodies of civilians.
What makes these revelations even more distressing is the fact that we know arms transfers are fueling atrocities. When you send arms to a region this insecure, there is so much room for things to go wrong. And they have. Amnesty International has consistently documented how U.S. weapons in Iraq have ended up in dangerous hands, including those of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State, because the world’s biggest arms dealer did not think it necessary to put in stricter checks and controls. If past mistakes are not to be repeated, the U.S. must exercise extreme caution with all future transfers to Iraq.
Our findings reflect a pattern of behavior from the United States — and indeed many of its allies cashing in on the multi-billion dollar arms trade — that is premised on the belief that sending billions of dollars’ worth of arms into the powder keg that is the Middle East is compatible with counter-terrorism efforts.
It is the same incongruous logic that has enabled President Trump to close a nearly $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia on Saturday. For his deputies and American arms manufacturers, the deal, which was one of the largest in history, was cause for celebration. But our hearts sank on hearing the news. The package included tanks, artillery, radar systems and, crucially, precision weaponry, previously blocked by President Obama over concerns that it would be used to kill and injure civilians in the war in neighboring Yemen.
While the frightening flaws in the U.S.’s monitoring of arms transfers in Iraq runs the risk of weapons ending up in the hands of dangerous third parties, we know exactly where the arms that the U.S. sells to Saudi Arabia end up: dropped on hospitals, schools and homes of innocent civilians.
And we are slowly, but surely, seeing the ripple effects of a foreign policy agenda that is agnostic to human rights concerns and obsessed with business interests at the expense of all else. It is no coincidence that the global refugee crisis has reached historic new levels at the same time that the global arms trade is returning to levels not seen since the height of the Cold War.
It is against this backdrop that Donald Trump will be speaking with allies about counter-terrorism efforts, proving that his pursuit of security is a dangerous farce that is laying the groundwork for more human suffering, not less. It is up to us to reveal the doublespeak on security concerns for what it truly is. If we don’t, the consequences will undoubtedly be global in nature, and too grave to ignore.