Authors of think tank report praising Gulf arms sales have ties to defense industry
The launch event featured laudatory remarks by the ambassadors to the United States of the three initial signatories – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel – all of which have shared an interest in shifting the regional balance of power against Iran.
But another interest group was omnipresent in the report’s creation, albeit never publicly disclosed by JINSA.
Seven of the report’s eight authors enjoy close and presumably lucrative ties with the U.S. arms companies. Unsurprisingly, weapons sales were praised throughout the report and heralded as the linchpin of the Accords’ success.
“Crucial to the [Trump] administration’s success was its readiness to provide the Accords’ Arab participants with significant – and in some cases controversial – inducements in terms of their bilateral relations with the United States,” according to the report. “This included arms sales to the UAE…”
The report went on to criticize the Biden administration for limiting some arms sales and working to end the Saudi led war in Yemen that has pushed five million Yemenis to the brink of famine, left four million displaced, and made two-thirds of the population dependent on humanitarian assistance.
“Whether intended or not, early moves by the administration such as rescinding the terrorism designation against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, suspending the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and denouncing former President Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran were all interpreted as signs that America’s commitments to defending its friends and deterring its adversaries in the Middle East were changing in ways that would be less conducive to advancing Arab-Israeli peace,” wrote the authors.
Neither the authors nor JINSA disclosed what may be a serious conflict of interest underlying the report’s policy prescriptions: all but one of the report’s authors are in the weapons business.
Case in point: JINSA lists the eight “policy project” members by their former military ranks or government roles. They include General Kevin Chilton, USAF (ret.), Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, USN (ret.), Ambassador Eric Edelman, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, USN (ret.), The Honorable Mary Beth Long, General Joseph Votel, USA (ret.), General Charles Wald, USAF (ret.), and Admiral Paul Zukunft, USCG (ret.).
Chilton sits on the board of Aerojet Rocketdyne, the only major U.S. independent supplier of solid-fuel rocket engines, and is president of Chilton & Associates LLC, “an aerospace, cyber and nuclear consulting company,” according to his Aerojet bio.
Aerojet provides the rocket booster for the THAAD missile defense system, a weapon exported to both the UAE and Israel and with deals in place for sales to Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Donegan is a “Senior Adviser for National Security and Cyber Security” at Fairfax National Security Solutions, a company “Providing national security and cyber security advisory service to allied governments,” according to Donegan’s LinkedIn profile.
Fairfax National Security Solutions is a member of the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council
From 2016 until 2021, Fox served as Vice President of Customer Affairs at Huntington Ingalls, the largest naval shipbuilding firm in the United States.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Wald is president of Wald International Strategy, where he helps “provide high level advice and strategy regarding International Security and Defense business development,” and Director and Vice Chairman of Federal Practice Advisory Partner at Deloitte Services, where he is “[r]esponsible for providing senior leadership in strategy and relationships with defense contractors and Department of Defense (DOD) program executives.”
Zukunft serves on the senior advisory board of Liquid Robotics, according to his LinkedIn profile. Liquid Robotics is an underwater drone manufacturer owned by Boeing, one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world.
JINSA did not respond to questions about whether it was aware of the potential conflicts of interest between the report’s promotion of weapons sales as a central pillar of the Abraham Accords and the extensive financial ties between the report’s authors and weapons firms or whether JINSA has any conflict of interest policy to address such situations.
Not everyone agrees that arms sales constitute a promising strategy for regional peace.
“If the normalization agreement model is to be a sustainable one, it must be able to stand on its own merits, not hinge on dumping even more deadly weaponry into the Middle East,” said Dylan Williams, senior vice president for policy and strategy at J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group. “There is a viable regional approach to achieving full normalization between Israel and its neighbors, but it rests on addressing Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, not on massive arms deals.”
Given the wholesale embrace of the report at its launch, it appears that the biggest beneficiaries of the Abraham Accords are in lockstep with the weapons firms whose products, and profits, are central to the agreement, even if it perpetuates the war in Yemen and makes a reduction in tensions with Iran less likely. Those outcomes might not serve U.S. national security interests but, as the report’s endorsers and authors show, foreign and U.S. special interests in the weapons industry are enthusiastic about a flood of weapons to the Gulf.