So far, there’s no sign Waltham-based Raytheon will let the alleged sawing of a journalist into pieces undercut its zest for doing business with Saudi Arabia, the country linked to this grisly murder
Raytheon has been ducking media inquiries about the status of CEO Thomas A. Kennedy’s participation in an international conference in Riyadh. But according to The Wall Street Journal, Kennedy is still listed as a speaker. The gathering, nicknamed “Davos in the desert,” was supposed to showcase a who’s-who of the world’s top business leaders. However, some big players in finance and industry pulled out after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and dismemberment in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The real issue isn’t who shows up at a conference. It’s whether the controversy changes a transactional relationship built on billions of dollars between Saudi Arabia and defense companies like Raytheon.
If President Trump has his way, it will be business as usual with Saudi Arabia. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is suspending exports of military equipment to that country, pending an investigation into the death of Khashoggi. Trump, of course, wants no part of any such principled stand. During his recent “60 Minutes” interview, he said he wants to keep the jobs that go along with a $110 billion arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Trump also accepts outlandish explanations about Khashoggi’s demise from the Saudis, who are trying to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the journalist’s death.
That leaves it to Congress to apply pressure. US Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said he plans to file legislation on Tuesday that would prohibit all military sales and aid to the government of Saudi Arabia, absent a congressional waiver. A McGovern spokesman said it would apply to “any current or future sale” of arms. The spokesman said Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, has signed on to the bill, which McGovern is promoting as cochair of a congressional human rights commission. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also asking the Trump administration to launch an investigation into the Khashoggi killing.
Saudi Arabia buys more weapons from the United States than any other country; and, according to the Journal, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics are the four largest US arms suppliers to the Saudis. The Journal also reports that US contractors made “more than $3 billion in sales to the kingdom last year.” According to the Center for International Policy, Raytheon is involved in 24 arms deals with Saudi Arabia, including “thousands of air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and over 7,000 Paveway laser-guided bombs.” According to a report cited by MarketWatch, that’s 2 percent of Raytheon’s annual revenue.
Last May, Raytheon also signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia during a ceremony “witnessed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and US President Donald J. Trump,” the company wrote on its website. As part of the agreement, the company announced plans to establish Raytheon Arabia, “a Saudi legal entity” owned by Raytheon that will focus on “implementing programs to create indigenous defense, aerospace, and security capabilities in the kingdom.” This, crowed Raytheon, is “the next step in our over 50-year relationship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a strong indicator of our continued global growth.”
That next step heralded by Raytheon represents a tightening of economic ties with a country with a long history of repressive policies and human rights violations. When it comes to outrageous behavior, the Saudis’ indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, including hospitals and schools in Yemen, and the connection to the gruesome murder of a dissident journalist, are just the most recent examples. According to the Boston Business Journal, Raytheon’s stock price is down 7.5 percent since the Khashoggi story broke, based on market concerns about risks to the company’s business with Saudi Arabia. That means there’s actually a disincentive to do the right thing. A willingness to look the other way makes Raytheon just like everyone else when it comes to putting profit ahead of principle.