Saturday, May 08, 2021

Egypt & an Increasing Arsenal: Arms Trade Concerns

    The Biden administration, after promoting a presidency which would be focused on human rights and having zero tolerance for writing blank checks to dictators, is now in a bind over an arms deal with Egypt. It was announced in February of this year, that the U.S. had approved a sale of rolling airframe missiles to the Egyptian military, in a deal worth an estimated $197 million. This announcement comes after news of the Egyptian government is reported to have detained family members of an Egyptian-American human rights activist. According to the state department, the deal was set in order to enhance military capabilities of the Egyptian navy, a non-NATO ally country who still remains "an important strategic partner in the Middle East". It is a confusing move from the Biden administration, but there are factors that might explain the insistence on an arms deal with Egypt. 

    In recent months, Egypt has sought arms support from other countries, including France and Russia. At the beginning of May of this year, the Egyptian government announced it had approved a deal acquiring 30 new Rafale aircraft from France, which brings the total Rafale Egyptain fleet to 54 units. While the aircraft will not be transferred for another 3 years, the Egyptian fleet will become the second largest Rafale fleet in the world. What was more concerning to U.S. officials was another recent purchase from the Egyptian government: 5 new advanced Russian combat aircraft. The newly purchased Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft, was said to be purchased to enable Egyptian aircraft to match the capabilities of both Israeli and U.S. aircraft. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had cautioned Egypt on the purchase, as sanctions had already been threatened and Egypt had already purchased Russian aircraft back in 2019. In the November 2019 deal, Egypt purchased the 40 Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters, noted the Egyptian government would not submit to the U.S.'s warnings and preferred to complete arms deals with Russia without pushback. 

    The U.S. attempts to walk the line of maintaining relations with world partners through the arms trade but also ensures American values are upheld and partners cooperate. Should there be issues, arms deals could be suspended or sanctions could be issued. Either way the U.S. has ways to signal it disagrees with a state's behavior. That is just what Secretary Blinken had tried to do when pushing back against Egypt's decision to buy from Russia, but the warnings are not enough. As sanctions did not scare off the Russian deal, perhaps the recent US/Egypt RAM missile deal is a way for the U.S. to counter Russian influence and strengthen a partnership with Egypt. The deal is still questionable however given the blatant human rights violations taking place within the Egyptian government, and the arms deal still taking place. Given Egypt's eagerness to expand military capabilities, any future arms deals with the state are worth examining.

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