In December 2014 Dutch MP’s, Servaes (Labour) and Sjoerdsma (Liberals) published a report called: ‘Weapons and principles, ambitions for a reliable and harmonised arms export policy in Europe‘. In this report the MP’s proposed more EU harmonisation of arms export rules, presuming that this would improve control. Harmonizing the European arms export policy however is a tug-of-war game. Every country has its own interest and arms exports are national jurisdiction, although within the framework of a ‘common position’. A remarkable reaction to the report came from Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Koenders, who pointed out that changes in EU arms export policy “must be the result of consensus and will be bases on the common denominator of the national arms export policies of the Member States. This may include the risk of a race to the bottom.” A refreshing reaction, contradicting the notion that more international arms trade policy is by definition an improvement. The central question should be: is arms export better controlled when export policy is more harmonised at international level?
Critical followers of arms export policies from NGO’s, opposition parties and scientist are focussing a lot of attention on the juridical and international possibilities of control; on general rules like the Common Position (CP/20089/944) and the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) or on more specific treaties to control specific weapons such as small arms & light weapons (SAWL), cluster weapons and anti-personal land mines. This strong focus on the international and juridical side has caused a shift from improving existing national legislation and limiting actual controversial arms exports. One of the consequences of this is that control on the trade in arms components, just starting to develop at the beginning of this century, seems to be mostly lost.
In 2003 Minister of Foreign Affairs – later Secretary General of NATO – De Hoop Scheffer told the Dutch Parliament that: “In cases of exports of components for defence equipment the end use is also taken into consideration; when applying for an export license end user information is requested. (…) In case the final destination is not known, (the Ministry of) Foreign Affairs will apply the criteria on the country where the components are first going to. When this is a country with a solid arms export regulation – a EU member state, a NATO ally – in principle a positive advice will be given to (the Ministry of) Economic Affairs, but when the country has an unsound arms export regime, this will result in a negative advice. The Minister regards the arms export regime of the US, the biggest and most important ally of the Netherlands, as sound.”
This policy was and still is formalized in the Declaration of Principles (DoP) between the USA and the Netherlands . This DoP regulates bi-lateral exports, but also exports to third countries, bringing about 25% of Dutch arms exports under ‘common’ US-Dutch export policy.
The Minister’s statement was a response to discomfort in the Dutch Parliament about the sloppy arms component export control. Several MPs of Green Left, SP and PvdA raised the issue time and again and tabled several resolutions since 2002 to improve control on components and to demand end user control.
It is obvious that the control on trade in arms components is an essential element of the control on arms exports. As the arms industry in many other countries, the Dutch arms industry is mainly producing components. These will be assembled elsewhere to be fighter aircraft, missiles, armoured vehicles and tanks. Then to be exported as complete weapon systems, sometimes to destinations for which the Dutch government would never have given export permission, for example to Israel, to Indonesia or to Egyptian land forces. Amnesty International took the Dutch example in its report Report Undermining Global Security in the European Union’s arms exports of 2004 (see pp. 40-41) to show the results of this kind of policy.
But while criticism in the national Dutch Parliament grew, the European Commission worked on simplifying terms and conditions for transfer of defence-related products – including components – within the EU. A new system of General Licensing turned around the licensing procedure, when not the exporter, but the importer became the controlling party. An importing industry needs to be certified by its government or a governmental body to be allowed to components import without licence. The idea is to stimulate the European internal market (including in this case Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein).
NATO countries and allies such as Australia, Japan and Switzerland also got their part of the ‘we trust you’ treatment. For those countries, a global license is available per one type of product, applicable for more than one delivery and for more than one destination. This comes in handy for companies involved in the production of the Joint Strike Fighter, which will be sold all over the globe in the next decades – also to human rights violators using air force against neighbours or even against own citizens. It also provides the Netherlands with an easy way to export components for the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, now on the brink of being delivered to Saudi Arabia. Although the Netherlands says it does not export to Saudi Arabia, on the basis of a Global License the product will be exported to Raytheon USA without and end user check; although the end user is known. There is no longer control, and there is also no information on the use of these different licenses.
MB June 2016