Nobel Peace Prize laureate boosts arms exports to the Middle East, despite or thanks to Arab spring

The European Union’s arms exports rose by 18 percent in 2011 and most of it is for the Middle East. This is remarkable, as 2011 also was the year of the Arab spring. Several EU member states (partially) stopped exporting to Arab Spring countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen for example – at least for some time. Arms embargoes were imposed for Libya and Syria. Remember, Libya was an emerging market until early 2011.

All this in no way did deter arms sales to some of Europe’s major oil suppliers slash dictatorships. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were allowed to buy huge amounts of European weapons, despite their involvement in the suppression of protests in Bahrain. In 2011 Saudi Arabia was the largest single customer for EU arms sales – taking over from the United States – buying weapons worth over 4.2 billion euro. The largest supplier being the United Kingdom, with a contract for Eurofighter Typhoons worth over 2 billion. The UAE was worth some 1.9 billion euro in arms export licences – destination number three, just behind the US.

It typically reveals how policy makers implement the arms export criteria set up under the EU Common Position ‘Defining Common Rules Governing Control Of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment’: criteria should never harm economic opportunities at too great a cost. The fact that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the world’s most repressive regimes, lacking most basic norms of democracy should not deter multi-billion export licences.

Every year the European Union compiles arms export data from its member states in what has grown to a 436 pages big document. The 2011 edition was published on 14 December by the European Council.

This fourteenth annual report reveals that in 2011 EU countries licensed arms exports valued at 37.5 billion euro – an increase of almost one fifth as compared to 2010. The report reveals that the major EU arms exporting countries in 2011 were France (9.9 billion euro), United Kingdom (7 billion), Germany (5.4 billion), Italy (5.2 billion) and Spain (2.8 billion), together worth over 80% of the value of EU military exports.

Groups from the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT) issued a press release criticising that despite the report’s voluminous size, it lacked analysis of the contents or comparison with data from past years. Also, as in previous years, the report is incomplete and appears very late, with data already obsolete, according to arms trade analyst Giorgio Beretta of Rete Italiana per il Disarmo (Italian Disarmament Network).

In the case of the Netherlands there is a huge gap between what is reported to the Dutch parliament – 2011 arms export licences were worth 715 million euro – and what the EU consolidated report shows: 416 million euro, an almost 300 million euro difference. For example a 46 million licence value for Indonesia reflected in the Dutch annual report compares to only 125,000 euro in the EU report. It is completely unclear how such differences can occur. Worse, it makes the EU report completely unreliable.

Many people were critical when the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize 2012. Considering their big role in the international arms trade and war profiteering, they dishonour the prize, which was awarded in the past to excellent peace workers such as bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, Jodi Williams from the Coalition to Ban Land Mines and Ramos Horta who was a leader of the peaceful resistance against the occupation of East Timor. But maybe the EU can start to live up its role of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, adhering to a really strict arms export policy in  2013. Stopping arms exports to undemocratic regimes and war mongers would be a good start.


[FS, 11 Jan 2013]