Activists and anti-war groups slam US decision to proceed with arms sales to UAE

The Joe Biden administration had earlier suspended its predecessor’s decision, pending review, to sell USD 23 billion worth of arms including 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets and 18 MQ 9-B unmanned Aerial Systems to the UAE

April 15, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Joe Biden, during his election campaign, had criticized the US involvement in the Yemen war. Photo: Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies

Several human rights and anti-war activists have criticized the Joe Biden administrations’ move to go ahead with the Trump-era decision to sell weapons worth USD 23 billion to the United Arab Emirates. The Biden administration had earlier put the decision on hold and announced a review after global criticism.

On Tuesday, a US state department spokesperson said that the government will proceed with the arms sale amid the review.

Partly due to years of campaigning by activists, Democratic Party leaders had opposed the deal last December in the Senate, albeit unsuccessfully, due to its potential to fuel the ongoing war in Yemen. According to news reports, the Biden administration broke a rare consensus among the Democrats against the deal and decided to go ahead with it.

The UAE is a part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which is waging war against Yemen since 2015. It has been accused of airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen along with numerous war crimes responsible for thousands of deaths. The coalition has imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Yemen depriving millions in the country of essential medical and food supplies, forcing them to the verge of starvation.

It is also accused of providing weapons to warring factions in Libya in complete violation of the UN arms embargo.

The Donald Trump administration had approved the deal to sell 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets, 18 MQ 9-B unmanned Aerial Systems and other weapons after the UAE signed the Abraham accords to normalize the relations with Israel in September last year. In December, the US Senate had approved the deal despite the majority of the Democrats opposing it. The Trump administration had finalized the deal hours before it left office on January 20.

Contradictory move 

Joe Biden, during his presidential election campaign, had criticized the US involvement in the Yemen war and had promised to end it once in power. In January, days after taking charge as president, his administration suspended weapons sales to both UAE and Saudi Arabia pending review. The decision was welcomed by peace activists.

Tuesday’s decision has invited sharp reactions from the peace activists, anti-war groups and even from Democrats in the US. Medea Benjamin of anti-war feminist group CODEPINK argued that selling advanced weapons to the UAE and talking about ending the US role in the war in Yemen at the same time does not make sense.


Friends Committee on National Legislation, a peace group, also criticized the move, pointing to the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen and its inhuman blockade of the country depriving Yemenis of essential commodities.


Annie Shiel, senior advisor at CIVIC, a human rights policy advisory group in the US, said the decision was against the “will of the majority of the Democrats” and a “slap in the face of victims of conflict in Yemen and beyond.”


The US is the world’s top weapons supplier to west Asia as per the report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). According to the report, the UAE is the world’s 9th largest importer of arms and a majority of its arms comes from the US.