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Thanks to Deals Inked Under Obama, US Extends Lead in Global Arms Trade

Saudi Arabia is the second-largest weapons importer in the world, receiving many of its arms from the U.S. as it wages war in Yemen

Saudi forces take part in military exercises during a visit by Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah at the Saudi-led coalition military base in Yemen's southern embattled city of Aden. (Photo: Ahmed Farwan/Flickr/cc)

Arms trade deals signed during the Obama administration have led to a rise in U.S. weapons exports in recent years, with nearly half of U.S. weapons going to the Middle East, fueling violent conflicts there.

New research completed by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that the global arms trade rose by about 10 percent from 2013 to 2017, during which the U.S. increased its sales by about 25 percent and accounted for about a third of global weapons exports.

The study was released as peace activists and some lawmakers have called for an end to U.S. arms sales to countries including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, now the world's second-largest weapons importers, have led a military coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015 using weapons and intelligence from the Pentagon—giving way to a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country and killing hundreds of civilians.

"Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales," Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher for SIPRI, told the Guardian. "Yet the U.S.A. and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia."

The U.S. now sells 58 percent more weapons than Russia, the world's second-biggest arms exporter.

The Obama administration negotiated more arms contracts than any administration since World War II and loosened restrictions on sales of weapons, tanks, and military helicopters.

"These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years," Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI's arms and military expenditure program, told the Guardian.

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