Arms Sale to Saudis a Tempest in a Teapot

April 25, 2016 2:35 pm Last Updated: April 25, 2016 5:00 pm

The Bible (King James version) in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 9, notes, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” But it is not sacrilegious to suggest that it is easier to be a victorious peacemaker than attempt such policy as an unarmed naïf.

Indeed, there has never been a society that endured without arms—and warriors to employ them in defense of their societies. Nor has an armed society ever stopped attempting to improve its armament.

Better weapons discourage enemies from attacking you; it is not the presence of weapons that encourages attack, but their absence/disparity that encourages attackers. The stronger one’s armed forces and weapons, the less likely one is to be attacked.

If your weapons are inferior/obsolete when facing a potential enemy, your best option is upgrading your arsenal. Thus it is a truism that no nuclear weapons state has ever been attacked, as nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent.

Likewise, a state seeks to expand its influence through arrangements with allies: states that (hopefully) share common values, but at least share common objectives. Allied cooperation is most efficient when they share essential strategy (defense against a common enemy), military tactical doctrine, and common equipment.

Thus, during the Cold War, Moscow imposed common doctrine and equipment on Warsaw Pact allies; NATO attempted to create agreed standardized weapons (most obviously F-16 fighters), but had to accept national preferences for independence in other military equipment, e.g., main battle tanks.

Nor is such standardization a modern phenomenon. Legions fighting for Rome were often not Italians, but their military equipment and tactical doctrine was largely equivalent throughout the Empire.

And one of the clearest ways to foster allegiance is to provide equipment to allies. It binds the recipient to the giver in ways beyond purely political and economic. Absorbing the training and tactics necessary to use equipment effectively also influences thought patterns in other areas of society/psychology.

One of the clearest ways to foster allegiance is to provide equipment to allies. It binds the recipient to the giver in ways beyond purely political and economic.

Moreover, if an alliance changes, it can be a wrenching readjustment for the country/military that has received significant amounts of equipment. Thus the Iranian revolutionaries struggled for years to find replacements/spare parts for Shah-era U.S. combat equipment, e.g., F-4 fighter bombers.

And, while the Indian military adjustment from leaving the Soviet military construct was not as wrenching as comparable action was for Tehran, the Indian military is still wrestling with maintenance of Soviet-era weaponry.

Thus the rationale for U.S./Western (including Canada) military relationship with Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, is obvious. These are important, indeed vital, sources of energy. Their loss to a hostile antagonist would substantially damage European and Japanese economies, albeit less so for the United States with its currently improved oil/gas extraction technology. Moreover, they are politically weak and militarily vulnerable to a vigorous aggressor—recall Iraq’s quick conquest of Kuwait and consequent threat to Saudi Arabia.

Which brings us to the ongoing imbroglio of Ottawa’s sale of Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. Definitely, it qualifies as a teapot tempest with several dollops of hypocrisy depending primarily on who is “out” and who “in” for Canadian politics.

The reality is that Canada has been selling LAVs to Saudi since 1992—reportedly 1,600 of them over the decades. The current sale, touted as the largest export deal in Canadian history, is designed to replace present inventory. This is a substantial coup for Canadian manufacturing, running CA$15 billion over at least nine years and employing 4,000 workers throughout this period.

The problem? Saudis don’t pass the Left-Liberal chattering class test; bluntly, they are not nice guys. They are a dictatorial monarchy with a human rights record just slightly less than dismal and disinclined to pretend acquiescence to squeaks of dismay from finger-pointing human rights groups.

Moreover, Canadian law essentially says “Thou must get affirmation that military equipment will not be used against civilians.” And that, frankly in the Saudi case, is a joke. The Saudis will use whatever force is necessary to maintain the monarchy in power regardless of who signs what virtuous affirmations of nonuse. The LAVs—destined for the National Guard, not the Army—can easily be used for domestic suppression.

So when in Opposition, the Liberals bemoaned the Tory sale. But “where you sit is where you stand” so, now in power, the Liberals endorsed the sale.

Big profits and 4,000 jobs are more important than human rights abstractions.

And it is not as if Saudi LAVs are shooting Canadians on Bloor Street in Toronto.

David T. Jones

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn From Each Other.”