Conflicts such as the Yemeni Civil War and the conflict in Syria have had massive ramifications for major arms manufacturers around the world, in some countries more than others. Germany particularly has faced widespread criticism from its own citizens over military equipment being sold to the Saudi government or other Middle Eastern powers engaged in controversial conflicts. But Germany, who represents the fifth spot internationally in terms of total arms manufacturing and exportation (washingtonpost.com), is not the universal model for all countries exporting large amounts of military grade equipment. Their attempt to freeze sales to countries involved in the Yemeni conflict is more of an outlier than the norm.
In fact, the United States, who sold three times as many weapons to Turkey between 1950 and 2016 (washingtonpost.com) and is the largest supplier of weapons to the Saudis, is not showing any signs of significantly slowing that trade, even in the face of souring relations between the various countries. What does this mean for the region as well as the world as a whole? Well for starters, it further complicates the conflicts and more than likely ensures they will continue longer than would have occurred without military sales from the West. Yet, trying to discern whether these impactful sales are going to the good or bad side of a conflict is also not typically a major consideration for the arms manufacturers themselves. They are companies just like any other and desire to make a profit.
According to the Hans-Boeckler Foundation in Germany, the arms industry in that country alone employs roughly 55,000 individuals and the economic impact on Germany’s GDP is similarly enormous. United States foreign policy has long included the ability for American arms manufacturers to sell their weapons abroad if the government determined it to be appropriate. Where this becomes a more complicated issue deals with the fact that many of these conflicts in the Middle East are not one, two, or even three-sided. For example, the United States sells weapons to Turkey, which they in turn use to oppose the Kurdish party PKK, a party that has been determined as a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States. But the United States government also recognizes the value of the PKK as a force to fight against ISIL. (washingtonpost.com).
Here we can see the difficulty in how arms exports, despite being such a lucrative industry, has ramifications for both the exporter and the importer. Responsible sale of military grade equipment is certainly something to strive for, but partisan disagreement and the economic benefits of such sales will likely continue the issue for the foreseeable future. For some governments in the Middle East this may spell greater security, for others it may bring longer and more devastating conflicts.
About the Author Peter Gaar is a student at the University of Kansas pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global and International Studies. He currently serves as a summer 2019 community intern for the IRC.