Algeria, Morocco naval built-up supports EU anti-immigration policies (and the Dutch arms industry)

While Europe itself is beefing up military operations to prevent immigrants from entering the EU by sea, it also supports North African countries to better equip themselves to tackle the issue at their end. Of course it cuts both ways: North Africa's military expansion is a welcome business opportunity too.

Algeria is one of the key countries Europe is looking at. According to the EU, it "seeks to develop particular close relationship to Algeria, its geographical neighbour, and to support Algeria's economic and political reforms. The relationship emphasises close cooperation on democratic reform, economic modernisation, and migration issues." Moreover Algeria wants to cooperate with Europe in combating 'terrorism'.

Algeria's latest purchases perfectly fit this policy. .

This year the country re-emerged as an export market for the Dutch arms industry - mainly Thales Nederland - with deals worth at least 24 million euro. The first licence (3.1 million euro) was notified in April, concerning "data management systems" for "communication between ships and helicopters" of the Algerian navy, through a British contractor.

In August another licence worth 21 million euro was announced, for radar and command, control and communication (C3) systems for three corvettes built in China. According to news reports the ships are built by China Shipbuilding Trading Company.

These are the first Dutch export licences in fifteen years for Algeria, after exports of night vision and communication equipment during Algeria's bloody civil war made headline news back in 1997.

Today the Dutch government sees no problems in dealing with Algeria's military, especially its navy. Indeed Algeria's human rights situation has improved. Most importantly, the state of emergency was lifted after twenty years.

But concerns of a regional military built-up and lack of democratic oversight remain. Animosity with neighbouring Morocco has not diminished over the past decades. This week Morocco recalled its ambassador from Algeria after a war of words over Morocco-occupied Western Sahara and the human rights situation.

In recent years both Algeria and Morocco have signed a number of large arms contracts, including fighter aircraft and major warships. As already noted in 2006 in the North African Journal: “The region’s governments clearly do not like Algiers decision to pump billions of dollars on defence, accusing it of starting a dangerous arms’ race spiral in the region (…) The whole situation, although it may not escalate from a military standpoint, is likely going to worsen political and diplomatic relations in the region”.

That arms race has indeed materialised since - again partly to the benefit of the Dutch naval industry.

In 2008 Morocco selected Damen Schelde Naval Shipyards (DSNS) over a French rival bid to supply three SIGMA-class frigates, armed with Italian Oto Melara guns and French Exocet and MICA missile systems. Reportedly the vessels would be needed for patrol and coast guard tasks and to enable joint operations with NATO navies.

According to Stockholm-based think tank SIPRI Algeria's purchases have made it the world's 8th largest arms importer over the 2007-2012 period, with Morocco at number 19. To compare: between 2002 and 2007 Algeria was number 24, Morocco 59.

Last week the Strategic Defense Intelligence (SDI) consultancy confirmed those data: "Algeria remains one of Africa’s most attractive defense markets, with a defense spending capability that is expected to increase in the forecast period, primarily owing to increased energy exports and an arms race in the North African region”.

Unfortunately the emergence of arms races - at high financial costs, draining money from human development - appears to be of minimal concern in the Dutch export licence decision making process.

 

[Frank Slijper, 1 November 2013]

 

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