Woke up this morning with the news that the queen’s highly controversial state visit (now reduced to ‘just a dinner’) to Oman was all about selling frigates to the sultan.
De Volkskrant, which broke the news, adds a new twist to what has become a hotly debated issue in the Netherlands. While at first the whole visit appeared to be centred around the Dutch stake in the port of Sohar, where Dutch business is heavily involved. But new revelations mention that the selling of four frigates, likely the same types as currently being built for Morocco, were the prime reason for the business-dominated visit. The deal could be worth as much as a billion euro and would be the largest arms sale in decades.
Dutch frigate De Ruyter, built as well by Damen Schelde, was scheduled to embark this week in Muscat, Oman’s capital, as a government selling tool. Correspondent Arjen van der Ziel quotes a Foreign affairs official as saying: “We want to fit in the strategy of Damen Schelde […] This government strongly emphasizes economic diplomacy”.
Already Oman is the main Dutch arms export destination in the Gulf region, with 125 million euro exports over the past five years, mainly for Thales Nederland equipment built on 3 Khareef Ocean Patrol Vessels built in the UK (a deal that Damen Schelde earlier had lost to the VT Group).
The government must have been unpleasantly surpirsed by the news, as over the past weeks Dutch arms trade with dictators in the Arab world have become focus of much media scrutiny, including the 1,000+ armoured vehicles sold to Egypt, as well as YPR and M-113 vehicles that were seen in the streets of Manama, Bahrain.
On 16 March Dutch parliament will discuss arms export policy with the government. With the current situation in the region it promises to be an interesting debate, with a focus on human rights and arms exports. If one thing has become clear over the past weeks it is this: no longer it can be considered OK to sell arms to dictators who are in power because they deny their people basic rights and may one day use violence against their own people.
(FS, 7 March 2011)