Arms Sales: What Americans Know About Bombs Dropped in Their Name

By the time citizens hear about a sale, the export licenses are already approved and Boeing factories are churning out weapons  we’ve never heard of, writes Danaka Katovich.

Nov. 30 2018: Chicago protest against the Saudi  attack on a school bus in Yemen. Each backpack stands for a child killed by a Lockheed Martin bomb. (Charles Edward Miller, Flickr, CC BY SA-2.0)

By Danaka Katovich
Common Dreams

At some point before the summer of 2018, an arms deal from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia was sealed and delivered. A 227kg laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of many thousands, was part of that sale.

On Aug 9, 2018, one of those Lockheed Martin bombs was dropped on a school bus full of Yemeni children. They were on their way to a field trip when their lives came to a sudden end. Amidst shock and grief,  their loved ones would learn that Lockheed Martin was responsible for creating the bomb that murdered their children.

What they might not know is that the United States government (the president and the State Department) approved the sale of the bomb that killed their children, in the process enriching Lockheed Martin, which makes millions in profits from arms sales every year. 

While Lockheed Martin profited from the death of 40 Yemeni children that day, top United States weapons companies continue to sell weapons to repressive regimes around the world, killing countless more people in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more. And in many cases, the United States public has no idea this is being done in our name to benefit the largest private companies in the world.

Now, the newest $735 million in precision-guided weapons that are being sold to Israel are destined to have a similar fate. The news about this sale broke in the midst of Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza that killed over 200 Palestinians. When Israel attacks Gaza, it does so with U.S.-made bombs and warplanes.

If we condemn the abhorrent destruction of life that occurs when Saudi Arabia or Israel kills people with U.S.-manufactured weapons, what can we do about it?

Arms sales are confusing. Every once in a while, a news story will break about a certain weapons sale from the United States to some other country across the globe that is worth millions, or even billions of dollars. And as Americans, we virtually have no say in where the bombs that say “MADE IN THE USA” go. By the time we hear about a sale, the export licenses are already approved and Boeing factories are churning out weapons we’ve never even heard of.

How Arms Sales Work

U.S. Capitol building. (Johnny Silvercloud/Flickr)

Even for people who consider themselves well informed about the military-industrial complex find themselves getting lost in the web of procedure and timing of weapons sales. There is a gross lack of transparency and information made available to the American peoples. Generally, here’s how arms sales work:

There is a period of negotiation that takes place between a country that wants to buy weapons and either the U.S. government or a private company like Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

After a deal is reached, the State Department is required by the Arms Export Control Act to notify Congress. After the notification is received by Congress, they have 15 or 30 days to introduce and pass a Resolution of Joint Disapproval to block the issuance of the export license. The amount of days depends on how close the United States is with the country buying the weapons.

For Israel, NATO countries, and a few others, Congress has 15 days to block the sale from going through. Anyone familiar with Congress’s arduous way of doing things may realize that 15 days is not really enough time to carefully consider whether selling millions/billions of dollars in weapons is in the political interest of the United States.

Boeing Sale to Israel 

What does this time frame mean for advocates against arms sales? It means that they have a tiny window of opportunity to reach out to members of Congress. Take the most recent and controversial $735 million Boeing sale to Israel as an example. The story broke only a few days before those 15 days were up. Here’s how it happened:

On May 5, 2021, Congress was notified about the sale. However, since the sale was commercial (from Boeing to Israel) instead of government-to-government (from the United States to Israel), there is a greater lack of transparency because there are different procedures for commercial sales.

Then on May 17, with only a few days left in the 15-day period Congress has to block a sale, the story of the sale broke. Responding to the sale on the last day of the 15 days, a joint resolution of disapproval was introduced in the House on May 20. The next day, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced his legislation to block the sale in the Senate, when the 15 days were up. The export license was already approved by the State Department that same day.

The legislation introduced by Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to block the sale was virtually useless as time had run out.

An Israeli Air Force F-16 warplane takes off with guided munition to strike targets in the Gaza Strip on May 16. (Amit Agronov, IDF, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

However, all is not lost, as there are several ways a sale can still be stopped after the export license is granted. The State Department can revoke the license, the president can stop the sale, and Congress can introduce specific legislation to block the sale at any point up until the weapons are actually delivered. The last option has never been done before, but there is recent precedent to suggest that it might not be totally pointless to try.

Congress passed a bipartisan joint resolution of disapproval in 2019 to block an arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. Then President Donald Trump vetoed this resolution and Congress didn’t have the votes to override it. However, this situation showed that both sides of the aisle can work together to block an arms sale.

US Weapons Can’t Violate Human Rights

Palestinian boy in walks through the remains of a house targeted by an Israeli air strike near a beach refugee camp west of Gaza City, July 12, 2014. (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)

The convoluted and tedious ways arms sales go through raise two important questions. Should we even be selling weapons to these countries in the first place? And does there need to be a fundamental change in the procedure of selling weapons so that Americans can have more of a say?

According to our own law, the United States should not be sending weapons to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia (among others). Technically, doing so goes against the Foreign Assistance Act, which is one of the main laws governing weapons sales.

Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act says that weapons sold by the United States cannot be used for human rights violations. When Saudi Arabia dropped that Lockheed Martin bomb on those Yemeni kids, no argument could be made for “legitimate self defense.”

When the primary target of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen are weddings, funerals, schools, and residential neighborhoods in Sanaa, the United States has no legitimate justification for their use of U.S. manufactured weapons. When Israel uses Boeing joint direct attack munitions to level residential buildings and international media sites, they are not doing so out of “legitimate self defense.”

In this day and age where videos of U.S. allies committing war crimes are readily available on Twitter or Instagram, no one can claim that they don’t know what U.S.-made weapons are used for around the world.

As Americans, there are important steps to be taken. Are we willing to put our efforts into changing the procedure of arms sales to include more transparency and accountability? Are we willing to invoke our own laws? More importantly: are we willing to put our efforts into drastically changing our economy so that Yemeni and Palestinian parents who put every ounce of love into raising their children do not have to live in fear that their whole world could be taken in an instant?

As it stands, our economy benefits from selling tools of destruction to other countries. That is something Americans must realize and ask if there is a better way to be a part of the world. The next steps for people who are concerned about this newest arms sale to Israel should be petitioning the State Department and asking their members of Congress to introduce legislation to block the sale. 

Danaka Katovich is CODEPINK’s Yemen campaign director.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

7 comments for “Arms Sales: What Americans Know About Bombs Dropped in Their Name

  1. June 15, 2021 at 13:33

    I don’t like anyone saying, “Thank you for your service” to me. I try to stop it if I have time but it’s usually too fast so I just don’t normally let people know I am a veteran (1968-1972). I wasn’t “in country” but I was in a lot of countries and many in my squadron were not only “in country” but in countries (Laos) were they weren’t (officially). Though I was not on the ground personally (that ground), the calculations I was part of brought more accurate bombing of North Vietnam and other areas. I still believed in Tonkin Gulf and a lot of other stories of governments. Over the years almost everything I believed real, I realized, was not. BTW, including the spitting nonsense. I, and the rest of my constantly traveling squadron, almost always in regular presence of the public experienced the exact opposite of spitting. Invitations, back slaps, welcomes. If anyone was “available” for crowds of protestors, or individuals, to sling insults or even spit, it was us, working right in the middle of people from cities to mountains and anywhere in between. So, when I saw this taken up as real in Ken Burns’ 10-part doc it was just one of the many reasons for which I detest the man and his outfit. The very epitome of the “Overton window” – maybe even only the very small center of that window. It was an area in which I would have had personal experience. The pity is that Burns’ technical expertise and large documentary production machine bulldozes over accurate history. Such as that we have those covert troops in Vietnam from 1945 on. And former German Waffen SS exprisoners, even former Japanese troops that first autumn. On and on. Civics classes? Needed but they, too, are Overton windows pretending to tell us how government works.

    • robert e williamson jr
      June 15, 2021 at 23:17

      Michael I could not agree more. I figure Burns was made an offer he couldn’t refuse and so he avoided any serious unpleasantness that might expose the US leadership for being , inept, arrogant and criminal. His only excuse is that he has detached himself from reality to produce a viable product.

      That’s Hollywood kids. The real pity could be he missed a great chance to tell truth and opted not to. A chance to expose the American war machine for what it really is.

      So the real pity is once again undeserving Americans are shielded from the truth about their phony government.

      So much for accurate portrayals of history. Ken “jumped the shark” and D.C. is still getting away with murder.

      The Overton Window IMHO is no more than a loose theory about how Americans should be told what to be interested in and why. A mechanism to allow DC politicians and lobbyist to move steadily down the road t0 perdition. Lets say set the agenda.

      Anyone interested in learning about Vietnam should go to youtube. The info presented there by the real vets is closer to the truth than anything produced by others.

      You will find the interviews with the guys who were there on the ground tell a much better story. Then watch Daniel Ellsberg talk about what he found in those Pentagon Papers. Burns as it turns out became a useful idiot at worst or a tool a best for the MIC and the Pentagon. Another chance for healing lost to the liars.

      The Pentagon, Joint Chiefs, National Security Council, National Security Agency, CIA and laundry list of others have telling lies to the public that serve their interests since 1947 and their predecessors since 1944.

      Thanks CN

  2. Alex Cox
    June 15, 2021 at 11:33

    This is a very good article. Thank you! I’m not sure that arms sales benefit “our economy”, though. Lockheed Martin and Boeing may benefit, but the number of workers employed on high-tech weapons production is comparatively small (compared to infrastructure renewal, say), and any benefit to the larger economy (as opposed to Lockheed and Boeing CEOs and shareholders) is debatable.

  3. Gillian
    June 15, 2021 at 02:15

    Even in 1975 most companies in the USA were part of the war machine/war industry. As G.B. Currie said above, we need to make people aware by letters to papers, talk-back radio, and social media. The latter two media will get the message through to those who do not read, or are so busy keeping their heads above water that they do not have time for reading newspapers. However, one of the most important things we can do is to contact government heads and express our concerns. Giving money for Peace, giving money for projects to help those in poorer countries, would make more friends and undercut the incentives for war. We could really have Peace On Earth if we care about the poor and vulnerable and change the way we spend money. Let us invest in Love and Caring and Not Hate and Fearing.

  4. GB Currie
    June 14, 2021 at 18:32

    Thanks for this concise explication of the process used by arms merchants in concert with US foreign policy, to maintain the empire. It’s “business as usual”, and most Americans, as Caitlin Johnstone observed in a recent column, are simply kept too tired, poor, and ignorant to put up a fight about what is done in the name of the US of A. What we can do and must do, is simply try to spread awareness via letter-writing to local papers, emails to our congress critters, and protests against the machinery of death that is our principal export.

  5. June 14, 2021 at 17:54

    This is a fantastic description of why we need to help stop weapon sales to human rights violators like Saudia Arabia, the UAE, and Israel NOW. And really, most wars involve targeting critical infrastructures like water supplies, hospitals, and sports stadiums full of civilians. Use this fantastic article to organize against war! Thank you, Danaka and Code Pink.

  6. Fred Jakobcic
    June 14, 2021 at 16:05

    The American public has failed to be aware of the reality of arms sales, and does it care, being selfish, et al, weak, dumb etc.

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