Arms deal

The Bush administration wants Congress to approve a $20 billion (E14.65bn) arms package for Saudi Arabia.

The deal would include satellite-guided bombs and upgrades to fighter planes and warships, but pale in comparison to the $30bn package in the offing for Israel.

Such sales are part of life. Countries want to improve their defence forces and companies want to make a few quid. But this is a political deal, something The New York Times buried a few paragraphs into the story.

[Bush] officials said the plan to bolster the militaries of Persian Gulf countries is part of an American strategy to contain the growing power of Iran in the region and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies.

Later in the story:

Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are likely to receive equipment and weaponry from the arms sales under consideration, officials said. In general, the United States is interested in upgrading the countries’ air and missile defense systems, improving their navies and making modest improvements in their air forces, administration officials said, though not all the packages would be the same.

Saudi Arabia isn’t looking for the weaponry. The materiel is being offered to it, clearly with the expectation the Saudis will jump at the opportunity. An agreement is expected in the autumn.

I actually laughed at this paragraph:

Worried about the impression that the United States was starting an arms race in the region, State and Defense Department officials stressed that the arms deal was being proposed largely in response to improvements in Iran’s military capabilities and to counter the threat posed by its nuclear program, which the Bush administration contends is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

How on Earth is pumping billions of dollars into several nations’ militaries not starting an arms race? Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a matter of debate, although it has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike India with which the US signed a nuclear deal earlier this week.

Economic and political interests are driving this deal. Selling $20bn of arms to Saudi Arabia will go some way toward redressing the balance of trade between the countries — a balance of trade in favour of the Saudis due to oil exports. A strong US relationship with the kingdom is one way to ensure future supplies of black gold, even if these will be exhausted in a few decades.

America has a long-standing relationship with Israel, which explains the arms offer to that nation. Unfortunately, this deal between allies runs the risk of fueling regional tensions.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Middle Eastern countries will accept the arms packages. It will be interesting to see what the deals entail for individual states.

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