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Last month the United States approved a $1.29 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia. This deal is the latest in a string of major arms sales agreements totaling $20.8 billion since the Gulf country began fighting in Yemen against the Houthi rebels in March 2015. In addition, from 2009-14 the United States delivered over $13 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, making it the largest recipient of U.S. arms in the world. Human rights groups have denounced the most recent sale, citing the recklessness of the Saudi-led air attacks that have left thousands of civilians dead.

On September 21, 2013, four gunmen affiliated with Somalia’s al-Shabaab entered a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and began shooting.  Kenyan special forces units were on the scene within hours – troops that the United States had spent millions to equip and train, and who were considered the cream of the African counterterrorism crop – but they took two full days to flush out the terrorists, and then spent the next two looting the mall.

In the past few months, major news outlets have highlighted the massive failures of U.S. security assistance efforts to combat terrorism in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. With these failures, a key question is whether or not the United States should increase or decrease the use of security cooperation for U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

Challenging a longtime U.S. military critique of security assistance, some defense experts are saying suspending U.S. military aid to foreign security forces because of their poor human rights record has often caused an improvement in the force’s behavior.


Like most volatile regions in the world, Central Asia has a laundry list of border security issues ranging from smuggling, livestock threats, disputes over land and water, unclear border lines, drug trafficking, and threats of extremist spillover.

On October 22, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Director of the McCain Institute, led a debate, asking the question, “Should U.S. Foreign Assistance be Tied to Human Rights?” The focus of the event touched broadly on a range of U.S. assistance and sought to determine what role human rights considerations should play in cutting off or releasing that assistance.


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