Report to Congress on Middle East Arms Sales

November 24, 2020 8:44 AM

The following is the Nov. 23, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Arms Sales in the Middle East: Trends and Analytical Perspectives for U.S. Policy.

From the report

This report analyzes state-to-state arms sales in the Middle East with a particular focus on U.S. transfers, as authorized and reviewed by Congress. Arms sales historically have been one important means for Congress to influence U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. The information in this report, including sales data, is drawn from a number of official and unofficial open sources.

Arms sales are an important tool that states can use to exercise their influence. The Middle East has long been a key driver of the global trade in weapons, to a disproportionate degree relative to its population. Some states in this heavily militarized and contested region are major arms purchasers, empowered by partnerships with outside supporters and wealth derived from vast energy reserves. Others have relied on grants and loans from the United States and other partners to supplement their more modest resources to meet defense goals. In part due to external relationships but in some cases increasingly independently, some Middle Eastern countries have developed military industrial bases that supply some of their own defense needs and/or generate profits through arms exports.

The United States is the single greatest arms supplier to the Middle East by volume and value, and has been for decades. However, other major producers like Russia, France, and China are also key players in the region, and their transfers of some sophisticated but smaller volume and value items, such as armed unmanned aerial vehicles and air defense systems, may have outsized effects on regional security. These countries’ respective strategies and goals for arms sales appear to differ in some ways.

This report considers a number of fundamental questions related to U.S. arms sales to the region, namely whether such sales have contributed to or achieved stated U.S. policy aims, including fostering greater intra-regional security and cooperation. The report then explores in greater depth arms sales, primarily from the United States, to six Middle Eastern states: Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These states, some of the region’s largest arms purchasers, have taken a range of approaches to pursuing influence and security in an unstable region. Some appear to be increasing their commitment to the United States as their primary security guarantor even as they may be interested both in building up their own domestic arms production capabilities and in seeking out alternative suppliers. When considering domestic or non-U.S. procurement, these states may focus on indications of U.S. military or political commitment to the region and/or U.S. willingness to share technology relative to other potential suppliers.

This report concludes by considering a number of arms sales-related issues of congressional interest. Both the executive and legislative branches have constitutional prerogatives regarding U.S. arms sales, and congressional action related to arms sales has influenced U.S. policy in the Middle East. Congress requires the executive branch to ensure that sales to regional states not adversely affect Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors (or qualitative military edge, QME), and arms transfer policy has figured prominently in debates over several countries and crises, such as the Saudi-led coalition’s military efforts in Yemen since 2015. Congress also continues to consider arms sales in the context of broader policy issues, such as human rights. The report discusses a number of options available to Members of Congress to influence arms sales to the region, including those related to oversight, reporting requirements, checks on executive action, and conditions on transfers or funding.

Download the document here.

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