At the closing ceremonies of the DIMDEX Arms Fair Qatar announced arms acquisitions valued at €17 billion ($23 bn.). This is more than twice the total Dutch annual military budget. Amongst others, the deal includes attack helicopters, guided missiles, tanker planes and naval vessels. Different segments of the orders have a Dutch component. The arms race on the Arabian peninsular has a new player.
On the picture: Patriot PAC-3 being fired.
Qatar is providing political support and weapons to islamists in several internal conflicts in the Middle East, such as in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Nusra in Syria has recently created a rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
But because of its missile defence capabilities close to Iran, the presence of a US-UK air force base and its rejection of Iran’s influence in the region, Qatar is a partner of the West. The arms acquisition plans of the Emirate are part of the military ambitions of the Gulf State to become a stronger player in the Arabian world, on par with its growing soft power influence. Qatar is also the country where Al Jazeera is based.
Amongst others, Qatar wants to buy 22 NH-90 military helicopters from the NH Industries division of European aerospace group Airbus (formerly EADS), worth €2 billion. The Airbus’ head offices are located in the Netherlands for tax reasons, but although the Netherlands provides its tax heaven facilities, it has no obligations to control the companies’ arms export policies. A win-win situation for Airbus and the Dutch State treasury. Dutch aircraft company Stork Fokker is participating for 5.5% in NH Industries and thus will profit considerably from the Qatar deal.
Another part of the deal is the sale of over €1.5 billion in Patriot missile defence system equipment made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Dutch Fokker Aerostructures “is one of the suppliers for materials of the Lockheed Martin (LMMFC) – PAC-3-program, which is a military program.”
The deal also shows the growing footprint of Dutch shipbuilder Damen in Qatar. At DIMDEX Nakilat Damen Shipyards Qatar signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the Qatar Armed Forces to build seven military vessels. “The vessels are highly sophisticated state-of-the-art naval ships based on proven designs providing unparalleled seaworthiness. (…) A large Integrated Logistic Support package is also mentioned in the MoUs” according to the Damen website. NDSQ is a joint venture between Nakilat and Dutch shipbuilder. The Dutch extreme islamophobic political party PVV asked Parliamentary questions on the deal. According to Minister for Trade and Development Ploumen, the deal is in line with Dutch export policies.
All Dutch and international arms control codes, regulations and treaties of the past forty years included regional security, regions of tension and human rights as criteria to measure and refuse arms sales. It seems Qatar is a highly qualified applicant for all three of them. Moreover, because Qatar is notorious for selling its arms to other conflict regions, at least the question has to answered how the end use of the exported equipment will be monitored. According to minister Ploumen: “When transfers of knowledge take place the Dutch arms export policy offers enough guaranties against undesired effects.” In the case of Qatar, a more concrete and detailed description of these guarantees is no luxury.