Which EU countries would be most affected by a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and why are NGOs and some MEPs campaigning for the change?
Members of the European Parliament yesterday renewed their call for a European Union arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, following allegations that the country is breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen.
It is the latest attempt in a string of actions compelling EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to impose an embargo against the Middle-Eastern country, including a letter signed by MEPs from several parties.
“All new (arms) sales should not be allowed to Saudi Arabia at the moment,” Bodil Valero, am MEP from Sweden, told Euronews.
Rapporteur for a European Parliament report on EU arms exports, Valero said: “European weapons are contributing to human rights abuses and forced migration, which are completely at odds with the EU’s common values.”
Two successful European Parliament resolutions on the issue have previously been passed, but its champions think that some member states, particularly those whose trade links with the country are deep-seated, may be less likely to cooperate.
Which countries make the most money from selling arms to Saudi Arabia?
One difficulty when comparing countries’ exports in this area is gaining access to data, with little information available after 2016.
“It is difficult to have up-to-date information on what is being sold to the Saudis because reporting is retrospective,” Kloé Tricot O’Farrell, Saferworld’s EU Representative, told Euronews.
She said another challenge is that some states argue the arms being sold are not used in IHL violations in Yemen, or that there is no direct proof that they have been, despite a large volume of evidence from humanitarian organisations.
The below data includes the licences for the sale of items to Saudi Arabia that the Common Position does not have a real mechanism to stop, like specialised equipment for military training and ammunition.
When considering, the value of licences issued by EU countries the UK tops the table concerning exports to Saudi Arabia.
This is no surprise to Valero, who sees the UK, along with France, as the “biggest problem” when it comes to Saudi arms sales, adding that adding that the UK has “the most to lose” if an embargo were put in place with 48 percent of their arms sales going to the Middle-Eastern country.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn today expressed his support of a UK block in this area, saying PM May’s silence on the issue in a recent trip to the country showed “her complicity in the Yemeni people’s suffering”.
May's silence during her visit to Saudi Arabia about the Yemen blockade & UK role in the war underlines her complicity in the Yemeni people's suffering. There must be an end to the blockade and UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia suspended while an independent investigation takes place
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 30, 2017
France, who Valero says is “good friends” with Saudi Arabia, comes high up on the list of EU dealers.
Data from 2016 sales showed 270 armoured combat vehicles were exported from France to Saudi Arabia—more than all other exports of this type combined.
Similarly, of 708 guns and rifles exported by the country in 2016, 500 were precision rifles sold to the Saudis.
Why do some want an embargo now?
Valero said the situation is “very different” from when EU member states started selling arms to Saudi Arabia, when the country was in “peace times”.
“Most countries have neglected the issue of human rights (in Saudi Arabia) and have sold anyway … things that, according to the Common Position, they could sell.
“But now Saudi Arabia is at war in Yemen. It’s a totally new situation, not only concerning the human rights situation in the country, it’s also because there are international humanitarian laws.”
The EU’s Common Position governing control of exports of military technology and equipment has no sanction mechanism and states are only answerable for non-compliance on a national level.
What are the arguments against an embargo?
Some believe that the EU’s focus should be elsewhere.
“Pakistan, North Korea, China is where we should focus our attention. None of these countries are signatories to the UN arms trade treaty while all EU member states are,” said Geoffrey van Orden, a UK member of the ECR group during the plenary debate.
Van Orden did not respond to Euronews’ request for comment.
Will the embargo happen soon?
“I think we are still very far away from an EU arms embargo being adopted,” said Valero.
She believes that many states would be for the change and should pressure EU’s biggest arms dealers to Saudi Arabia to support change:
“If two countries out of 28 say no and the others say yes, there should be more pressure on the minority.”
NGOs like Saferworld are calling for the embargo to be passed as soon as possible: “The arms that are currently being sold to Saudi Arabia and members of the Saudi-led coalition are being used in Yemen and are primarily affecting civilian populations,” said Tricot O’Farrell.
“Civilians are bearing the brunt of this conflict,” she concluded.