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“Defense One” Website: Removing HR Conditions from Arms Sale to Bahrain Has Severe Repercussions for Washington’s Interests

2017-05-03 - 2:36 am

Bahrain Mirror: The "Defense One" website specialized in American military affairs said that the move taken by the Trump administration and represented by removing human rights conditions from a multibillion-dollar F-16 sale to Bahrain is likely to have severe repercussions for American interests in the Middle East.

Sam Jones said in an article on the website that some supporters of the deal's new terms, like Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, have suggested that human rights conditions would be "counterproductive" to American interests in the region.

He added that Gen. Joseph Votel, the current head of U.S. Central Command, took a more nuanced approach, noting the "need to carefully balance [rights] concerns against our desired outcomes for U.S. security assistance programs" and to "avoid using the programs as a lever of influence or denial to our own detriment."

He explained that the ostensive detriment here, according to administration sources, is that restrictions on weapons transfers to allies with poor human rights records - like Bahrain - could prevent those partners from resisting ISIS or a revanchist Iran.

The author further stated that both proponents and critics of the deal's conditions have generally operated within a false dichotomy. Despite Senator Corker's vague suggestion of "more effective ways to seek change," as well as General Votel's more tempered warnings, security assistance and reform incentives need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, America's most senior defense official has seemed to support this very point - and in no other place than Bahrain.

Jones continued that Defense Secretary James Mattis, described as holding an "anti-Iran animus...so intense", reported in 2011 that Bahrain's military would be strengthened, not weakened, by the type of reforms previously tied to the F-16 sale, indicating that rather than accept the Bahraini government narrative - that Iran was the primary driver of the country's unrest - he seemed to acknowledge the kingdom's history of broad-based repression and specific anti-Shia discrimination, particularly in the military. In 2012, Mattis allegedly raised his concerns over the sectarianization of the Bahrain Defense Force to its then-chief of staff, offering lessons from the American military's own history of racial integration. But - without leverage - his advice went unheeded.

Jones noted that while the military doesn't produce official figures, it is estimated that Shia account for around 5 percent of BDF personnel, despite making up 60-70 percent of Bahrain's citizen population. In contrast, the total percentage of foreign Sunni recruits in the security sector may be more than 50.

This systematic exclusion led a recent Center for Strategic International Studies report to conclude the BDF "is not a national army," but rather "the servant of the absolute monarchy." Moreover, such structural discrimination risks fostering extremism, and there is evidence that security officials have propagated extremist discourse. The BDF has published a religious pamphlet that denounces several non-Sunni sects of Islam as heretical, for example, and even justifies violence against those who practice certain Shia traditions.

Six years ago, Mattis told the BDF it needed to eliminate sectarian discrimination to improve as an armed force, adding that these measures remain vital not only for rectifying age-old grievances, but also building a strong, national army that could best serve as an American defense partner.

The author says that the new administration's decision to remove human rights conditions from the F-16 sale threatens to cede a crucial position from which to effect such change, explaining that the sale is itself an opportunity to demonstrate American commitment to creating a sustainable military in Bahrain - one that will be a source of stability and reconciliation, not of resentment and extremism.

At the end of his article, Jones wondered whether the U.S. willfully gives ground in Bahrain; or if it does, what's needed to stabilize a problematic defense partner.

Arabic Version    


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