In a surprise move, the United States has announced that they will halt sales certain munitions sales to Saudi Arabia yesterday, citing growing concerns about “flaws” in Saudi targeting in the Yemen war, which is leading to a huge number of civilian deaths.
Officials quoted in Reuters described a “systemic, endemic” problem with Saudi targeting in the war, and decided that they could no longer sell certain “air-dropped” weaponry to the Saudis. The shift is surprising, as US officials have repeatedly claimed support for the Saudi war, but it isn’t necessarily a huge shift.
The US sells an enormous amount of arms to Saudi Arabia yearly (under Obama, the United States has sold more than $115 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and that includes cluster bombs, an explosive that’s been outlawed by 119 countries), and officials aren’t providing clarity on just how big this “certain” sales halt amounts to. The expectation is that it is minor. Perhaps more problematic, the US is going to continue to provide mid-air refueling for the Saudi warplanes to continue the objectionable bombing campaign.
US officials say they wanted to make it clear that sales to Saudi Arabia weren’t a “blank check,” though in practice the big concern was likely legal liability, as a growing number of groups have warned the US may face legal repercussions for participating so heavily in Saudi war crimes.
Halting even a few sales may provide some legal cover for administration lawyers to argue they acted to limit Saudi war crimes, but at the end of the day, US warplanes are still refueling US-made warplanes dropping US-made bombs on civilians.