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Expand chart
Data: SIPRI Arms Transfers Database; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump has said it would be "foolish" to cancel billions of dollars in weapons deals with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom's involvement in the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — a remarkably blunt admission of the role the international arms trade plays in U.S. foreign policy.

The big picture: The U.S. is the world's top arms exporter, competing directly with Russia and increasingly China in a global market that's worth upwards of $89 billion annually. Saudi Arabia is currently the No. 1 buyer of U.S. weapons, purchasing nearly three times as much as any other country over the past two years. Arms deals tie ethics to economics, and they can exacerbate geopolitical tensions in high-risk areas like Yemen and North Korea.

Driving the news: India's planned purchase of a S-400 missile system from Russia has put it on a collision course with the U.S., which sanctioned China last month for buying the same system.

  • Unlike China, however, India is an important strategic ally that is viewed as essential to the U.S. fight against militant groups in Pakistan and other regional threats. If the U.S. imposed sanctions against India, it could stoke domestic backlash and close off U.S. defense sales to India for the foreseeable future.

Trump has suggested that arms deals with Saudi Arabia are too valuable to risk over a missing journalist.

South Korea is a key military ally to the U.S. that has played an essential role in ongoing denuclearization talks with North Korea.

  • But if the Korean peninsula moves closer to peace, the need for arms deals and joint military exercises — which continue as a means of deterring nuclear threats from King Jong-un — may diminish.

The bottom line: The U.S. uses arms sales as a carrot to further its foreign policy aims. But as Trump's statement on Khashoggi shows, the lucrative deals involved can also shape U.S. policy, rather than the other way around.

Go deeper: The global arms race between the U.S. and Russia

Go deeper

Cedric Richmond: We won't wait on GOP for "insufficient" stimulus

Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" the White House believes it has bipartisan support for a stimulus bill outside the Beltway.

  • "If our choice is to wait and go bipartisan with an insufficient package, we are not going to do that."

The big picture: The bill will likely undergo an overhaul in the Senate after House Democrats narrowly passed a stimulus bill this weekend, reports Axios' Kadia Goba.

Updated 7 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Cuomo asks for “independent” investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he would authorize and "voluntarily cooperate" with an independent investigation run by New York's attorney general into claims he sexually harassed several women.

The state of play: The statement comes after a day of competing statements from Cuomo and AG Letitcia James over who would oversee an independent investigation into the governor.

Cuomo scandal snares Dems on #MeToo

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images   

The searing sexual harassment allegations made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo are trouble for Democrats far beyond Albany and New York.

Why it matters: They hammered Donald Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. Pilloried Brett Kavanaugh over Christine Blasey Ford. Defended President Biden when he was accused of inappropriate touching. Now, Democrats have to show whether they walk the "#MeToo" talk.