Russia and Saudi Arabia are getting closer. America should be worried.

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Increasingly, Russia and China are courting countries that have long relied on the United States as a security partner. Saudi Arabia and Russia recently $ 110 billion in defense capabilities wrap. Last December, the State Department made a decision approving the possible sale of 3,000 GBU-39 small-diameter bombs and related items.

In contrast, Riyadh has only collaborated with Moscow sporadically in recent years, including a failed $ 3 billion deal in 2017 and a agreement not yet applied allowing Saudi Arabia to produce Kalashnikov rifles in the country. The recent Saudi decision to re-engage Moscow demonstrates that the market for security cooperation has become a strategic area in which the United States must compete with its main rivals.

The annual US security cooperation efforts are estimated at around $ 16 billion, encompassing arms sales, capacity building and other forms of military assistance. Over the past five years, approximately 93% of all foreign military financing funds have been directed to partner countries in the Middle East, 81% going to just three countries: Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Chords and deals like the Camp David Accords play a role in increasing those numbers.

Granted, the United States has many vital interests in the Middle East, but should this region control 93% of all American cooperation interests? Now is the time for US leaders to seriously reconsider the role of cooperation in US defense strategy in light of competition with Russia and China.

The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan severely damaged foreign perceptions of the value of having the United States as a security partner. After 20 years of training Afghan forces, conducting combined operations, and supporting personnel and materiel, the rapid fall of Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation have raised doubts about the reliability of the United States.

As the United States retreats from the Middle East, Russia is leaning forward to expand its footprint in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively marketing Russian weapons and defense items as a cheaper and more accessible option than those of his competitors. Although generally of inferior quality, Russian weapons do not come with the layers of security, human rights protection and end-use oversight provisions that come with American weapons.

For example, in 2014, the United States rejected a demand for the sale of Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria due to human rights violations against suspects involved in the conflict with Boko Haram. In the same year, Russia delivered six Mi-35M combat helicopters to Nigeria. Last February, the Biden administration suspended indefinitely two sales of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia over concerns over human rights violations. This month the The Pentagon also suppressed high altitude terminal area defense; and Patriot missile defenses that had been stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base. The future of US arms transfers to Saudi Arabia is now uncertain.

US delays or cancellations of arms transfer agreements can cause other countries to view Washington as a less reliable and less desirable security partner, prompting them to seek new security relationships elsewhere. While the United States should not compromise its fundamentals, there is also a balance to be struck in dealing with the world in which the great powers compete for influence, access, trade and security. In an ideal world, all-or-nothing policies might exactly match the values ​​we value at home and want others to do the same abroad. But not everyone is ideal, so pragmatism has its place.

Policymakers need to determine how much diversification of security partnerships we can tolerate. Partners like Turkey, which has chose to buy Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s advanced air defense systems demonstrate that countries will seek other suppliers for their defense needs when the United States is reluctant to do so. Even Germany has shown its willingness to partner with a main competitor, integrating Russian navigation systems on the ships of his navy.

Now is the time for US leaders to address the key issues that fundamentally shape the way the nation conducts its foreign policy and national security missions around the world. How can America’s brand of security cooperation become more competitive without compromising its fundamentals? As a tool fundamentally designed to support our national defense, any overhaul of our security cooperation efforts would do well to ensure that the practical realities of these programs align with their stated strategic objective: the security of states. -United.


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