By the Blouin News Business staff

U.S. strategy: Negotiate with Iran, arm Egypt & Pakistan

by in Middle East, U.S..

Pakistani army Mi-17 helicopters fly during a rehearsal for the National Day celebrations, in Islamabad on March 20, 2015.

Pakistani army Mi-17 helicopters fly in Islamabad on March 20, 2015. FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Pakistan reiterated that it would use the arms and military equipment from a proposed $952 million sale from the U.S. for counterterrorism. The U.S. State Department approved the deal on Monday, and notified Congress of the possible sale, as is required by law. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the State Department approved a smaller arms sale to Egypt, not long after the U.S. lifted its freeze on military assistance on March 31.That estimated $57 million deal would be the first major arms sale the U.S. government has approved for Egypt since its military toppled the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood government in July 2013.

President Obama’s proposed budget requests over $1 billion in military and civilian aid to Pakistan, including a sharp rise in foreign military financing — from $42.2 million in 2014 to $265 million in 2016. Pakistan had submitted its request for this arms package last year, stating that the weapons were needed for fighting insurgents in the country’s mountainous regions. The deal would include 15 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and 1000 R-type Hellfire II missiles, as well as communication systems and associated support systems. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency assured U.S. lawmakers that the proposed sale “will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” implying Pakistan’s arch-rival India has no cause for alarm. It also said that “there will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale,” implying that crisis-stricken Pakistan will not become a failed state and lose control of these weapons.

Like Pakistan, Egypt has had a strained and tumultuous relationship the U.S. in recent years. But a rapprochement came when the U.S. resumed military assistance to Egypt on “reasons of national security.” Obama authorized the release of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits that had been held from delivery, and he will continue to request $1.3 billion a year in military aid (but will stop allowing Egypt to purchase weapons on credit beginning in fiscal year 2018.) The freeze had been a major source of anger and frustration for Egypt’s government, which is battling a deadly Islamist insurgency in the Sinai reiong and has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State in neighboring Libya’s chaotic civil war. The deal approved on Wednesday would provide Egypt with 356 R-type Hellfire II missiles and associated equipment, parts, and training.

In the Obama administration’s first five years, the volume of major arms deals concluded ($169 billion) is nearly $30 billion more than the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office. 60% has gone to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia has topped the list with $46 billion in new agreements during the last five years.

Last Friday, Obama invited leaders from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — the region’s main political bloc — to an upcoming summit at Camp David. Obama said the gathering will discuss ways to “further strengthen our security cooperation.” Some in the region even suspect America’s nuclear negotiations with Iran as a deliberate strategy to increase demand for U.S. arms exports to the Sunni nations. America seems unreliable as a security partner — while it alternates between criticizing human rights and providing arms to its nominal Sunni allies, it is extensively negotiating with their Shia archenemy Iran. Meanwhile the Islamic world is becoming even more unstable, as evidenced by the chaos in Yemen that is drawing in neighboring countries. The existing regimes feel they must fend for themselves, so the more guns the better.