Why More And More Countries Are Blocking Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And The UAE
October 16, 2018 Dominic Dudley / Forbes & Tom O'Connor / Newsweek
Even before reports of the alleged murder of a reporter during a visit to the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, civilized nations were cutting military ties with the Saudi regime. Spain has become the latest country to halt an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, as criticism continues over the conduct of the war in Yemen -- which may have directly killed 50,000 civilians. Other countries to sever military arms ties with the Saudis include: Belgium, Germany, Norway, Finland, The Netherlands, and Canada.
Why More And More Countries Are
Blocking Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And The UAE Dominic Dudley / Forbes
(September 7, 2018) -- Spain has become the latest country to halt an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, as criticism continues over the conduct of the war in Yemen.
Reports from Madrid this week said the government had canceled a deal to sell 400 laser-guided bombs to Riyadh. A down-payment of €9.2 milliion ($10.7 million) will be returned to the Saudi government. It seems the deal was annulled due to fears the weapons could be used in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been engaged in fighting for more than three years.
Details are understandably hazy, but some 50,000 people may have been killed in the Yemen war to date. A UN group of experts recently reported that war crimes are likely to have been committed by all sides in the conflict. Among the most recent heinous incidents, 40 children were killed on August 9 when a Saudi bombing raid hit a school bus.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Spain sold $352 million worth of weaponry to Riyadh between 2014 and 2017. That represents a fairly small fraction of the $13.2 billion in arms purchases by Saudi Arabia over that period.
The largest arms suppliers to Riyadh are the US, with $8.4bn worth of sales since 2014, followed by the UK ($2.6 billion) and France ($475 million).
The governments of these three countries show little or no interest in curbing their lucrative deals with Gulf countries. However, a growing number of other governments are taking a different approach and, even in London, Paris and Washington, there are regular legal and political challenges to the trade.
In the UK, for example, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is challenging the government's policy of licensing military exports to Saudi Arabia, with a court hearing scheduled for April 2019. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia if he gets into government.
In France, two groups -- Action Securite Ethique Republicaines (Aser) and Droit Solidarite -- have taken a case against arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the Council of State, the country's highest legal authority.
And in Washington, there is growing opposition in Congress to arms sales to Riyadh and the provision of support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
"Saudi Arabia and the UAE will face the prospect of permanently damaging their standing with Congress if they don't change their behavior in Yemen," said Eric Eikenberry, director of policy and advocacy at the Yemen Peace Project, in a recent article for LobeLog.
Meanwhile, other governments have been taking a different view. Over the past year the list of exporters either pausing or blocking arms sales to the combatants in the Yemen war has been steadily growing, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE the two countries most often affected.
* In the Belgian region of Flanders, the government has blocked some arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, although it has stopped short of imposing a blanket ban. In January this year, it emerged that the Walloon regional government was also blocking arms sales to Riyadh, at least for anything due to be used outside Saudi Arabia.
* In the same month, Norway's government announced it was suspending arms sales to the UAE after carrying out a "comprehensive assessment of the situation in Yemen". It had already been blocking arms deals to Saudi Arabia.
* Also that month, the German government said it would stop any new arms exports to countries engaged in fighting in Yemen. Previously some German arms manufacturers such as gun-maker Heckler and Koch had found it difficult to secure export permits for sales to the Middle East.
* Finland's president Sauli Niinisto also said he would block arms sales to the UAE while campaigning for re-election at the start of the year (as did the other candidates), after stories emerged of Finnish-made armoured vehicles being used in Yemen. Niinisto was duly returned for a second term in February.
* It is not just a European issue. A Canadian government spokesman told The Globe and Mail in January that the government was "hitting the pause button on approval of new permits". Campaigners have since pushed for an independent review of Saudi use of Canadian-made armoured vehicles, which are being provided under a C$14.8 billion ($11.3 billion) deal signed in 2014. In any case, the recent diplomatic dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa perhaps makes any further large deals unlikely at this stage.
Officials in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are unlikely to be too concerned about the loss of these smaller suppliers. Their main concern will be ensuring there is no let-up in the flow of arms from the key countries of the US and UK and, to a lesser extent, France.
Meanwhile, there are signs of disquiet within Saudi Arabia too. Prince Ahmad Bin Abdelaziz, a brother of King Salman, criticized the conduct of the Yemen war while talking to protestors outside his London residence earlier this week.
"We [the Al-Saud] have nothing to do with what is happening," he said. "Certain officials are responsible such as the king and the crown prince. I hope the war in Yemen ends after tomorrow."
Such public criticism from a senior member of the royal family is extremely rare and suggests that the criticism of the Saudi campaign in Europe and North America is matched by growing dissatisfaction within the kingdom.
Dominic Dudley is a freelance journalist with almost two decades' experience in reporting on business, economic and political stories in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.
Who Still Sells Weapons to Saudi Arabia? Spain Joins Others to Cancel Arms Deal,
but Some -- like the US -- Want to Sell More Tom O'Connor / Newsweek
(September 12, 2018) -- Saudi Arabia's leading role in the war against a Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebel group known as the Houthis in Yemen has drawn allegations of widespread human rights abuse, alienating some nations on an extensive list of willing arms sellers to the kingdom.
Spain said on Monday it would begin contract talks with Saudi Arabia after last week Madrid became the latest Western government to cancel an arms sale to Riyadh amid mounting reports that the Saudi-led forces battling the Houthis, or Ansar Allah, were involved in deaths of potentially thousands of civilians.
The deal in question dealt with the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs, which Saudi Arabia and its allies argue they drop with precision against legitimate targets in Yemen.
"Decisions will be made according to a bilateral framework between two countries that are partners and have signed a contract and it will be resolved amicably," Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles told the country's senate, according to Reuters.
A number of other Western countries have also stepped back their military assistance to Saudi Arabia over its involvement in Yemen, which the United Nations has said is experiencing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
However, Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher of the Arms Transfers and Military Expenditure Programme at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told Newsweek that he did not anticipate seeing significant changes in the flow of arms to the Sunni Muslim monarchy.
"I don't expect that we see a really large amount of movement in order to restrict arms transfers to Saudi Arabia," Wezeman said, noting that even Spain would likely continue to supply crucial refueling aircraft to Saudi Arabia. "I think it will most likely remain limited to the countries that we see."
He noted that this list has grown in the years since the conflict in Yemen began. Saudi Arabia launched its military intervention in Yemen alongside mostly Arab allies and with US support in 2015, shortly after the Houthis took advantage of popular protests against Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to oust him from the capital.
Saudi Arabia -- along with regional allies the US and Israel -- view the group as a proxy for Iran, which has politically supported the rebels but denies supplying them directly with the ballistic missiles they routinely fire at the Saudi-led forces and the kingdom itself.
While the origin of Houthi weapons remains a matter of dispute, Saudi Arabia has boasted a wide range of international backers, some of which have expressed concern over the targeting methods employed by the Saudi-led coalition.
In one notable incident last month, Saudi Arabia bombed a bus that it initially said was full of enemy combatants. Yet just last week it admitted "mistakes in compliance to the Rules of Engagement" that it "expressed regret" for, according to the official Saudi Press Agency, suggesting reports that the bus was full of children, as featured on CNN, were credible.
This airstrike followed countless others that reportedly hit scores of Yemeni civilians at weddings, funeral processions and crowded markets, leaving Saudi Arabia's international sponsors concerned. Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have since canceled arms deals and cut assistance to varying degrees.
In light of a recent diplomatic spat, Canada and Saudi Arabia have ceased all trade, including military equipment, and Wezeman said that Italy had raised the discussion of ending such weapons sales.
Still, Saudi Arabia retains many supporters abroad. Some countries, such as the US, are even looking to increase their military ties to the Gulf state despite lawmakers increasingly questioning this relationship at home.
Despite the fact that it was likely a US bomb that killed more than 50 people, including 40 children, in Saudi's bus bombing last month, Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed weeks later that the US was only "watching" the conflict unfold.
He said the Pentagon was only interested in battling Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), despite reports featured last month by the Associated Press and last year by Just Security in Newsweek suggesting that the US was actually assisting Al-Qaeda fighters in spite of their mutual Houthi foe.
Trump has grown closer to Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and has pledged further weapons sales to the kingdom. And the US is not alone in doing so: The UK, France and China remain major sellers to Saudi Arabia, with South Korea recently joining by reportedly providing anti-tank missiles.
Turkey and a number of Eastern European countries also sent weapons and military equipment with others, such as Brazil, potentially joining the mix. Russia too has offered to cut a deal for weapons, including its S-400 missile defense system.
In fact, from 2013 to 2017, Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer -- only behind India -- with more than 98 percent of its imports coming from the US and European states, according to SIPRI's March report.
Even with all these guns, Wezeman noted that "seeking a military solution to the situation in Yemen seems hopeless, especially the way Saudi Arabia seems to be going about it," and said restricting arms sales was a viable way to apply pressure and expedite a diplomatic framework that may ultimately end the conflict.
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