Bahrain and American Arms Sales

How America denounces human rights offending nations, then sells them weapons. By Kyle Boulden

The recent “Arab Spring” has seen sweeping political changes across the Middle East, with governments toppled and democratic movements gaining more and more momentum. This revolution has not been without bloodshed however, as corrupt dictators and governments struggle to retain their grip on power.

Bahrain was one such country, where protestors demanding greater political, social, and economic rights were brutally suppressed by the ruling monarchy. At least 30 people were killed, and hundreds were wounded.

Across the world, the condemnation was unanimous as governments denounced the violent crackdown, which included the use of live ammunition and the alleged torture of detained protestors. More recently, Bahrain has been back in the news after a special security court sentenced 20 doctors and nurses who treated wounded protesters to jail sentences ranging up to 15 years. They were charged, implausibly enough, with stealing medicine and occupying a medical complex for “political purposes.”

Those decisions led to new rounds of criticism from the international community, including appeals to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an investigation into the cases and related claims of abuse while in custody. And yet, in a stunning move just this past week, the United States announced new plans to sell $53 million worth of military equipment to Bahrain. This is in addition to $200 million that was approved by the US State Department in 2010.

The new purchases comprise a range of weapons and equipment, including 44 armoured Humvees. These are precisely the types of vehicles that were eventually brought into Bahrain by Saudi Arabia, who sent 1000 troops there in March after the tiny Gulf state asked for their help in quelling the unrest.

It’s funny how things can change over just a few months. In June, the Obama Administration denounced Bahrain’s actions, albeit half-heartedly, to the United Nations Human Rights Council, adding them to a list of human rights’ offenders that also included Iran, Sudan, Burma and Gaddafi’s former government in Libya.

Meanwhile, in a mind-boggling recent press release trumpeting the proposed sale, the US State Department called Bahrain an important ally that “has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

Of course, this hypocrisy may not come as a surprise to followers of international politics. The United States are by far the largest exporter of weapons in the world, with some $8.6 billion in sales in 2010. Other recipients of American arms include many of the countries facing profound impacts from the Arab Spring, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the former dictatorship in Egypt (who bought over $385 million in arms from the United States between 2009 and 2010).

What we have here is yet another example of decisions being made that display a woeful ignorance to the detrimental impact on humanity. Without even delving into the broader issue of the ongoing propagation of arms around the world, providing arms to the Bahraini regime, that has so clearly committed human rights violations, sets another negative precedent in the international community.

Despite their commitment to peace and democracy, time and time again the United States has shown that their willingness to stand up for democratic principles only goes so far as their wallets will allow. This short-sighted behaviour creates a situation where countries like Bahrain can get away with stifling progress for the good of humanity, without fear of serious consequences. There is no broader wisdom in making decisions like this, only a wilful ignorance of the long-term damage to humanity.

(Original image by GOOD and Column Five)