EDITORIALS

Warships to Saudi Arabia

Posted Sept. 20, 2011, at 3:30 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 20, 2011, at 4:56 p.m.

The U.S. Navy is dickering with Saudi Arabia over some destroyers it would like to buy, possibly from Maine’s Bath Iron Works. Is this a good idea? There are several diverse answers.

What first comes to mind is that the deal should be pursued vigorously. The Saudis are expanding their navy and need modern warships to defend against threats and inroads by Iran in the region. They have the money and reportedly plan to spend $20 billion to $23 billion to overhaul their naval systems. They have been a reliable and stable ally in the tense Middle East. And the sale would help BIW, Maine and the American economy by supplying jobs and money.

On the other hand, friendly allies don’t always stay that way. Think of Iran before and since the reign of friendly Reza Shah was overthrown. Gannett’s Defense News recalls that several American destroyers were under construction for Iran when the shah fell. And U.S. state-of-the-art missiles on Tomcat fighter planes sent to the shah’s regime fell into hands of the new hostile government.

Similarly, U.S. rockets supplied to forces fighting against Soviet rule in Afghanistan were later used against us. Saudi Arabia could conceivably fall victim to a fundamentalist takeover in an extension of the Arab Spring that has transformed Tunisia and Egypt and rocked other governments.

In a longer-range sense, you might be surprised to learn that the United States has already scheduled a record $60 billion dollar military sales package for Saudi Arabia this year. It includes 2,000 guided bombs, 4,000 Hellfire missiles and 1,300 cluster bombs, which are prohibited by the international Convention on Cluster Munitions but permitted in this case since neither the Untied States nor Saudi Arabia has signed the treaty.

The size of that deal is a reminder that our country is the leading arms merchant to the world. In the past, the United States has sometimes provided weapons to both sides in wars that eventually develop. And recently, American weapons have helped bitter enemies, such as India and Pakistan, who are often not far from war.

The American arms industry plays an important role in the U.S. economy. Yet the message in many of our holiday greeting cards is a wish for peace in the world — a peace that never comes.

If the destroyer deal with Saudi Arabia goes through, it will be welcome to both countries and to most of their people. But Americans should keep in mind that their weapons are intended for use in war, defensive or offensive as things turn out.

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