Saudi Buys Thousands of Cluster Bombs from the US

Saudi Arabia is buying thousands of cluster bombs from the United States despite a near-universal ban on such weapons, Foreign Policy reported on Friday.

The US Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that Massachusetts-based Textron Defense Systems has been awarded a $640 million contract to sell 1,300 cluster bomb units to Saudi Arabia. These bombs are expected to be shipped to the Saudis between now and and the end of 2015.

The decision to sell these weapons comes only few months after both Saudi Arabia and the US joined the international community in condemning the use of cluster bombs by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

“We are disappointed with the US decision to export cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as both countries acknowledge the negative humanitarian impact of these weapons on civilians,” said Sarah Blakemore, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an international group that aims to end the use of such weapons.

112 countries around the world have signed an international treaty banning cluster bombs, and 83 of these countries have ratified it. Saudi Arabia and US have not signed the treaty.

Cluster bombs explode and scatter thousands of tiny weapons over a vast area, and these small bombs can go off years after a battle which can result in the death or maiming of people who mistakenly touch them. The CMC said Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in the past during the 1991 Gulf War and stockpiles the weapons, but the country is not believed to produce or export them.

The US cluster bombs sale to Saudi Arabia is the latest in a series of large arms deals between the two countries, despite the differences between the Obama administration and the Saudi government over regional policy in the Middle East. At a time when the US is said to reconsidering its financial aid to Egypt military rulers, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last week this his country and its allies would step in to make up any reduction from the US and Europe.

In 2011 Saudi Arabia signed a $60 billion arms deal with the US that was described as the largest US arms sale ever. That deal will continue to be implemented over the next 15 to 20 years.

It is expected that the latest cluster bombs deal will proceed despite international objection. “If the Saudis want cluster bombs, the U.S. will provide — no matter what the world thinks,” Foreign Policy said.

Photo courtesy of Greg Goebel via Flickr