Congress Has the Power to Halt U.S. Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Only five days after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalize relations, the Senate moved one step closer to possibly ending U.S. arms sales to Riyadh through legislation that could redefine the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship.

On March 15, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Republican Sen. Mike Lee introduced a privileged resolution that would require the State Department to produce a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as well as its conduct in Yemen. Once Congress has received the report—which, given the kingdom’s long history of abuses, is likely to show a consistent pattern of human rights violations—Congress could vote to end U.S. security assistance.

The preparation of a report—a document that will draw from the State Department’s existing annual human rights reports, which are also mandated by Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act—is relatively uncontroversial. It is the second part of the process that has the potential to transform the U.S.-Saudi security relationship. Once the report has been received, Congress has the option to trigger a vote on ending the sale of U.S. weapons to Riyadh.

Section 502B has never been used to block a weapons sale. It has been invoked only once, in 1976, and then only to compel reports on the human rights abuses of Argentina, Iran, and four other countries receiving U.S. weapons in the context of the Cold War, when the U.S. government consistently ignored or supported the state-led abuse of leftists in the name of countering communism.

Read the full piece in Foreign Policy.