This is the third blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2018 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, at times offering recommendations.
What has been clear throughout the conflict is that Saudi Arabia and UAE forces have continued to be main destinations of European (and US) arms and military support. Over the past nearly two decades, Saudi Arabia has been Europe’s number one arms destination, with the much smaller UAE at number three. These two oil-rich states have been a lifeline for Europe’s arms industry, especially in the UK and France.
This strong dependency of lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states explains much of Europe’s refusal to cut arms sales throughout the Yemen conflict, despite clear indications that these very weapons could be used in the conflict. The UK alone approved export licences for the Saudi regime worth more than 4.6 billion pounds since 2015. France is Europe’s main supplier to the Emirates, where Dassault receives full governmental support in its attempts to sell 60 Rafale fighter aircraft. Meanwhile it is going to upgrade their fleet of Mirage jets, which have been widely used in Yemen.
Europe has long boasted of having a highly advanced arms export control framework. That may be the case if you consider the level of guidance that come with the European Union’s Common Position on arms exports.
But if you consider the realities of recent major arm exports to the warring parties in Yemen, while claiming that exports need to be assessed against eight “far-reaching risk assessment criteria,” this is merely hollow rhetoric that is meaningless for millions of people in Yemen, who continue to suffer. Repeated demands from a majority of the European Parliament – through non-binding motions - for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia have not led to decisive action – while it was no problem for EU ministers to agree to an arms embargo earlier this month against Venezuela, the number 49 arms export destination.
In 2018 the “legally binding” Common Position has its tenth anniversary, twenty years after the EU decided on a politically binding Code of Conduct guiding European arms export controls. These milestones mark undoubted advances (as well as some recent steps backwards) in terms of transparency in reporting arms transfers – something nearly non-existent twenty years ago. It has certainly not set “high common standards” reflected in real restraint in the face of blatant violations of human rights and the law of war. Only an immediate stop on arms transfers to all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen would give reason to celebrate the EU’s common export control system.
Frank Slijper is the Programme Leader on the Arms Trade at PAX, based in the Netherlands