Written by Connie Larkman
The United Church of Christ is joining more than a dozen faith based-organizations speaking out against the U.S. role in militarized engagement in the Middle East. In a letter sent Thursday morning, May 5, to the Obama administration and all members of Congress, the UCC and partners are calling instead for greater U.S. diplomatic and development spending in the Middle East — lifting up the U.S. role as a promoter of justice and peace in the region, taking a major shift away from military aid and arms sales that only prepare participants for violent conflict.
"Our commitments to peace and justice in the Middle East, and our General Synod policy, which includes advocacy for constraining the militarization of the Middle East, have made it imperative to continue to press our elected officials to rethink how we engage the region," said Peter Makari, Global Ministries executive for the Middle East and Europe. "Our country contributes significantly to the arming of the countries of the region. That kind of engagement can only result in more violence and abuses of human rights and dignity."
Here is the complete text of the letter:
Dear Honorable Members of Congress,
As people of faith, we are deeply grieved by the violence, displacement, and abrogation of human rights playing out in the Middle East today. We believe the role of U.S. military assistance and arms trade is a major factor in fueling a downward spiral of militarization, dehumanization, and destruction of lives and livelihoods across the region. We are devastated by the ways our nation's arms manufacturer industry has profited from war and oppression across the Middle East. As U.S.-based Christian denominations and faith-based organization, we call upon you to show bold global leadership in ending these cycles of violence by ceasing all arms allocations and transfers to the region, and calling on other countries to do the same.
The U.S. arms trade represented a $36.2 billion enterprise in 2014, a $10 billion increase from the previous year, while U.S. military aid exceeded $5.9 billion. Military aid to the Middle East from 1946-2010 totaled approximately $150 billion, nearly half of which went to Israel, with the remainder primarily going to Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Despite promises of regional peace and expanded political and economic influence, the ever-growing U.S. commitment to arms transfers in the Middle East has instead increased the deadliness and scale of conflicts for civilians, fueled regional instability, and weakened this nation's moral standing. The Middle East today offers decisive evidence that peace cannot be bought through military strength, and positive influence cannot be bought or sold through arms transfers.
Arms sales and military aid make the U.S. a party to myriad violations of rights and international law, including Saudi Arabia's indiscriminant bombing in Yemen, Israel's violations against Palestinians, Egypt's human rights record, and the breaches of international law perpetrated by U.S.-armed Syrian rebels. Though justified as policies that support U.S. interests, such immoral tactics fuel ever-expanding violence. That many military aid recipients in the Middle East, including Israel, are arms sellers adds to this quagmire.
We urge the U.S. to consider how these policies conform to the Arms Trade Treaty signed by Secretary Kerry which requires states to implement its own policy to "assess the potential that the conventional arms or items […] would contribute to or undermine peace and security" in the Middle East. We also believe Congress should investigate whether these arms sales promote accountability and require enforcement as required by the Leahy Law and the Presidential Policy Directive on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy (PPD-27).
The U.S. government should exercise moral leadership that, in addition to a rigorous adherence to national and international law, recognizes and reacts to the growing threat arms transfers pose to stability in the Middle East. A recent letter signed by 11 members of Congress calls for investigations into human rights abuses in Egypt and Israel, mirroring this call for consistent and comprehensive accountability.
As a country, we can and should play a role in ending human devastation in the region and promoting regional peace. As a first step, the U.S. must call for an international arms embargo on the region and be the first actor to halt all relevant arms sales and military aid. Such an approach should be reinforced by more robust development aid and enhanced diplomacy to promote a holistic and lasting peace.
American Friends Service Committee
Armenian Orthodox Church
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Pax Christi International
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church USA
United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society