Dutch arms exports to China, Turkmenistan and Egypt

The Dutch government is quite transparent in detailing its arms exports – at least, ex post. Licence details are published on the government’s website. Although transparency in itself does not limit exports – the Netherlands is still a solid top-10 arms exporter – it  gives the opportunity to scrutinize the implementation of export policies.

And although the Dutch government is transparent, it is very slow in publishing. The most recent available data relate to the first half of 2011.

For analytic reasons we put the monthly overviews together in (semi-) annual files.

The separate licences reveal more details than the very general reports that are sent to parliament twice a year, most recently last December.

From that general overview we already knew that the total export value for the first six months of 2011 was 514 million euro and that main destinations were NATO countries: the United States (117 million euro), the United Kingdom (74) and France (40).

More interesting are details on a few destinations that deserve special attention:

Remarkable is a 160,000 euro licence for military cameras to Egypt. Although small in financial volume both the licence date and the nature of the goods are noteworthy. The licence was granted on 4 February 2011, two weeks since massive major protests had made Cairo’s Tahrir Square a symbol of the Arab Spring and forced dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down. With wireless services reportedly impaired and air force fighter jets flying low over the square, the Dutch government had no problems with supplying infrared cameras with military specifications. It was only in March that the government decided to hold export licences to Egypt and a few other Arab countries.

Other remarkable licences were granted for arms exports to:

Taiwan: submarine spare parts orders worth another 21 million euro, added to 170 million over the previous ten years, making submarine after-sales a very lucrative business for Damen Shiprepair, which took over former Wilton Fijenoord’s submarine maintenance in 2003.

China: 18 million euro for “RAS/FAS” naval supply systems. RAS/FAS is short for Replenishment-At-Sea/Fueling-At-Sea. While the 1989 EU arms embargo allows for non-lethal military supplies, this is the first major military deal between the Netherlands and China ever since. And while the western world specifically refers to China’s naval build-up when  legitimising arms sales to neighbouring countries, the Dutch government apparently sees no problem with sales to China either.

India: 10.6 million licence for cables for US-supplied military aircraft. That could be either P-8i Poseidon maritime surveillance planes or C-130 Hercules or C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft, which are currently all in production for India. In recent years India has re-emerged as a significant arms export destination, with licences worth some 41 million euro for the years 2006-2010.

Turkmenistan:One licence worth 6.8 million euro for search radars, supplied via Turkey to Turkmenistan’s navy. In December Foreign Affairs minister Rosenthal claimed Amnesty International had positively advised on the deal, but at Amnesty offices nobody could confirm this. The authoritarian Turkmen president Berdymukhammedov recently started with his second term, thanks to a 97% win in fake elections.

The Dutch government rather looks at Turkmenistan as an emerging energy supplier and is promoting business ties with the country, including a recently opened export credit line, guaranteed by the state for up to 100 million euro.

It will be very interesting to see if the Arab Spring had much impact on Dutch arms export policies later in 2011. The government has – yet again – promised to deliver its full 2011 annual report faster than before, and also to include new contextual information, detailing decisions on specific major export licences. As nobody yet knows how this will look like we will just have to wait and see until early summer.


[FS, 11 April 2012]