donderdag 25 december 2014

Arms trade in the real world

Recently, the Dutch parliament and government had their annual debate on arms export policies of the previous year. Although the debate is supposed to include an evaluation of individual arms trade licenses, these were not on the agenda, resulting in a large number of questionable exports not addressed, such as optical instruments, parts for armoured vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels for Israel, armoured vehicle parts for Colombia, assault rifles for Ecuador, mortar technology for Ethiopia, and more. (See for an overview of Dutch arms export licenses in 2013 the 47 pages list aggregated by Stop Wapenhandel.)

During the parliamentary debate, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that allies are treated differently from non-allies when the application for an arms export license is checked against export rules. Country at stake was Saudi Arabia, the biggest global buyer of European arms in 2012 (the most recent year year for which EU figures are available). From the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia received parts for military simulation equipment, a search radar, and Typhoon and F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft equipment. This was even before the Saudi's joined the military actions against ISIS in which the Netherlands is also participating.

(Cartoon text:  “We should not trample human rights under foot.”)

Dutch foreign minister Koenders made clear during the arms trade debate that all arms export licenses are checked individually, but also that a ally meets preferential considerations. Apparently this counts in the extreme for Saudi Arabia, which fails on all relevant criteria when checked against the rules for arms exports licensing. For example, it took part in the intervention in Bahrain against the popular uprising in 2011, it publicly executes the death penalty by beheading for unlikely crimes such as witchcraft, it finances Salafists in a region ranging from Mali to Bangladesh (often with deadly violent effects), it is heating the conflict with Iran, and is allegedly arming Islamists in the Iraq/Syria conflict. But it is rich in oil, it gives space for Western military bases, even after a major withdrawal of US troops in 2003, and is now an ally in fighting the Islamic State.

For allies, the rule not to export arms to countries with a bad human rights record and the risk to provoke or prolong regional armed conflict apparently is of minor importance. It illustrates how arms trade policy still is an issue of power politics. It is not difficult to find more examples in the EU of power politics connected to arms sales. The Polish government recently decided to sell 1,000 Beryl assault rifles to the Nigerian military. The rifles are produced by Fabryka Broni Lucznik, part of the country’s state-run Polish Armaments Group. The company expects to deliver 5,000 more next year and hopes interest for the product is raised elsewhere. To put it mildly, there is friction with human rights in this arms export. Torture is freely used by the Nigerian security agencies to obtain intelligence from suspects. Overall there is a lack of respect for human rights by Nigeria's military and security forces. The Nigerian Premium Times recently phrased it like this: “The Nigerian Police Force is unwilling to shed the dangerous toga it has donned over time as an institution of repression similar to what the Armed Forces of the Saddam Hussein's era were known for in Iraq.”

But help is on its way. Nigeria and the European Union are enhancing cooperation to end the insurgency of Boko Haram. The EU is focusing on human rights and on civil military cooperation training support. This should improve the human rights record of the Nigerian forces. For a start, President Goodluck Jonathan downplays the worries. Human rights abuses are happening but generally exaggerated, he stated, in line with the lessons British comedian Mark Thomas gave to dictators at the Defendory arms fair back in 1999. Deny structural misbehaviour, said Thomas in front of hidden camera's to these dictators, but admit a bit of torture. That is what public opinion will accept. The denial of the Nigerian president however may stand in the way of the badly needed improvements. But the Polish government is already anticipating on them to happen and gave the green light for a massive arms export. Or is it a choice between two evils?

Ignoring export rules can also work the other way around. The French decision not to deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia did not follow from any EU arms export obligation, according to the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, because the deal was made before the arms embargo to Russia came into power and there was no obligation to halt it. The French sale however did not fit into the dominant US and European policy towards Russia, pressure on Paris reached a high level and the Elysée jumped ship on the sale. Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian declared that the conditions of ceasefire needed to be fulfilled in Ukraine before the carrier delivery could proceed.

Dutch minister Koenders regarded the French decision not to deliver because of the failing ceasefire a new and positive criteria, outside the EU arms export rules and tailor made for this specific case. At the same time, when confronted with supplies of weaponry by Lithuania to the Ukraine, the minister considered this legitimate, because the Ukraine is under Russian pressure. It is not to compare the situation of Ukraine with this to Russia, but apparently the risk to provoke or prolong armed conflicts does not count in this case, according to EU policy. It showed again that the EU arms export criteria are used at random, depending on who is your ally and who is not. Arms trade is predominantly part of foreign policy and power politics.

Written for Stop Wapenhandel
Dutch version written for Ravage Webzine

donderdag 27 november 2014

Arms fairs season

Arms trade, walks over bodies,
NO arms fair in Ahoy, Rotterdam.
foto: Martin Broek
Last week Dutch peace activists and the solidarity movement with Palestine went to Rotterdam to protest against the annual symposium of the Dutch Defence and Security Association (NIVD). This annual party is connected to an exhibition, the newspeak word often used for an arms bazar. Just before the symposium, the spokesman of the NIVD told the press that one of the participating companies, Elbit from Israel, was not showcasing a missile system, because of fear of the protests. So even before waving the banners the protest was already succesfull, and received broad media attention. At the same time however, the several contracts on fighter aircraft F-16 and F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) where conclued at the arms fair.

screenshot IDEAS2014
On December 1, defence exhibition IDEAS2014 will open in Karachi. Dozens of top military officials and senior dignitaries are expected to attend. The organisation assured that all the necessary security measures are taken to provide a safe and secure environment for the more than 200 companies from 23 countries, and more than eighty delegates from more than forty five countries. It is worth the effort, because, as was stated in Pakistan Observer, the military spending spree of India “is also posing a serious challenges to other neighbouring countries.” So what may be called the South Asian arms race is the reason to sell even more.

screenshot IDEX website
The Dutch are preparing a trip to the IDEX arms fair in Abu Dhabi. In February 2015 the NIVD and the Netherlands Aerospace Group (NAG) organises this in cooperation with the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Economic Affairs and Defence. Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert will be heading the delegation in person. (See the IDEX website for the most recent overview of participants.) The Middle East is the region with the highest military expenditures after NATO countries and East Asia. So for arms manufacturers, it is absolutely the place to be.

screenshot UDT website
Closer at home there will be a next chance to raise sales and profits. From June 3 to 5 the whole circus of the international arms industry will be coming to Rotterdam harbour for the Underwater Defence Technology (UDT) fair. Submarines, torpedo's and sonar, all the hidden under-surface killers will be presented here. Some are or will be armed with nuclear weapons, like those subs of France, UK, US and Israel. The last time the UDT fair was organised in the Netherlands the event took place in Amsterdam. Companies such as Lockheed, Martin, Airbus (EADS), Thales, Raytheon, British Aerospace and Finmechanica were at show in 2005. Together they counted for one third of all arms sales worldwide. The 2005 UDT fair met with fierce protest by peace activists and and was blockaded effectively for hours. The Major of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, stated at that time that although he could not close the fair, he was not happy with it either. The Socialist Party opposed the exhibition of bombs.
In 2014, several political parties in the Rotterdam city council supported a proposal to ban arms fairs altogheter from the city of Rotterdam. Major Aboutaleb proposed a proper debate on arms fairs in the city, in response to the protests against the NIDV fair.

screenshot ITEC website
The banning of arms fair has some history. The International Training and Exhibition Conference (ITEC) for example first met with objections from the members of the Haque city council in 1999 who visited the fair. ITEC met with protests everywhere ever since, in Amsterdam, the Haque and Cologne. Next year the fair will be organised in Prague. Franciscan protesters, who follow the ITEC arms fair all over Europe, booked another victory in 2014 when, just like Amsterdam which declared ITEC not welcome for 10 years, the city council of Cologne decided that hosting ITEC for 3 times in the Kölner Messe has been enough!

It is the arms fair season. Protesting arms fairs may become fashion for this winter and spring.

Written for Stop Wapenhandel and Konfrontatie (Dutch, with some more links).

Het lijkt wel wapenbeursseizoen

Afgelopen week gingen vredesactvisten en solidariteitsactivisten met Palestina in Rotterdam protesteren tegen het jaarlijkse symposium van de Nederlandse Inschakeling Defensie en Veiligheid (NIVD). Dit jaarlijkse feestje gaat samen met een exhibition, het newspeak woord voor een wapenbeurs. Kort voor het symposium, vertelde woordvoerder van de NIVD, Mat Herben, de pers dat een van de deelnemende bedrijven, het Israëlische Elbit, een raketsysteem niet zou tentoonstellen, vanwege angst voor de protesten. Dus voordat de spandoeken uitgerold werden, was de actie al succesvol, en kreeg mede daarom veel media aandacht. Gelijkertijd werden er wel een aantal gevechtsvliegtuigencontracten gesloten, voor de F-16 and F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter).

Op 1 december zal de wapenbeurs IDEAS2014 openen in Karachi, Pakistan. Vele top militairen en VIP's zullen aanwezig zijn. De organisatie verzekerde dat alle noodzakelijke veiligheidsmaatregelen zijn genomen om een veilige omgeving te creëren voor de meer dan 200 bedrijven uit 23 landen, en meer dan tachtig afgevaardigden uit zo'n vijfenveertig landen. Het is de moeite waard, want zoals de Pakistan Observer stelt, de uitbundige militaire bestedingen van India “betekent ook een zware uitdaging aan de buurlanden.” Kortom wat een Zuid-Aziatische wapenwedloop genoemd kan worden is reden om zelfs meer wapens te verkopen.

De Nederlanders bereiden een tripje voor naar de IDEX wapenbeurs in Abu Dhabi. In februari 2015 organiseren de NIVD en de Netherlands Aerospace Group (NAG) dit in samenwerking met de ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Economie en Defensie. Minister van Defensie Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert zal persoonlijk het hoofd van de delegatie zijn. De Nederlandse deelname aan IDEX zal zich voornamelijk richten op marine technologie, maar er is meer. (Zie de IDEX website voor het meest actuele overzicht van deelnemers.) De Nederlandse stands staan tussen die van Rusland en Turkije in. Het Midden-Oosten is de regio met de hoogste militaire uitgaven na de NAVO-landen en Oost-Azië. Voor wapensmeden is het absoluut de plaats om heem te gaan.

Dichter bij huis is een volgende mogelijkheid om verkopen en winsten op te vijzelen. Van 3 tot 5 juni gaat het wapen-industriecircus naar Rotterdam voor de Underwater Defence Technology (UDT) beurs. Onderzeeërs, torpedo's en sonar, het hele scala onderwater moordenaars zal er aanwezig zijn. Sommige onderzeeërs zijn of worden bewapend met nucleaire wapens, zoals die van Frankrijk, Verenigd Koninkrijk, VS en Israël. De laatste keer dat UDT zijn tenten in Nederland opsloeg was in 2005 in Amsterdam. Bedrijven zoals Lockheed, Martin, Airbus (EADS), Thales, Raytheon, British Aerospace en Finmechanica waren aanwezig. Samen namen ze destijds eenderde van de wereldwijde wapenverkopen voor hun rekening. De 2005 UDT-wapenbeurs stuitte op stevige protesten en was enkele uren effectief geblokkeerd. De burgemeester van Amsterdam, Job Cohen, stelde dat hij de beurs niet kon sluiten, maar hij was er ook niet blij mee. De Socialistische Partij protesteerde de tentoonstelling van bommen.
In 2014 stelde de Rotterdamse partijen NIDA en SP voor om wapenbeurzen uit de stad te weren. Burgemeester Aboutaleb wil dat er binnen de gemeenteraad een debat wordt gevoerd rond de wenselijkheid van wapenbeurzen in de stad. Dit als reactie tegen de NIDV-beurs.

Het stoppen van wapenbeurzen heeft een geschiedenis. De International Training and Exhibition Conference (ITEC) bijvoorbeeld kreeg eind jaren negentig te maken met protesten van leden van de Haagse gemeenteraad. In 1999 bezochten ze de beurs (samen met een vertegenwoordiger van ITEC mocht ik vertellen wat er te zien was). ITEC ontmoette daarna overal protesten, in Amsterdam, Den Haag en Keulen. Volgend jaar wordt de beurs georganiseerd in Praag. Franciscaanse demonstranten, die ITEC door heel Europa volgen, mochten een volgende overwinning incasseren. De gemeenteraad van Keulen verklaarde dat het met drie maal ITEC faciliteren in de Kölner Messe genoeg was geweest!

Het is wapenbeursseizoen. Het protesteren tegen wapenbeurzen kan de mode worden deze winter en voorjaar. 

Geschreven voor Konfrontatie en Stop Wapenhandel (english)

maandag 17 november 2014

East meets West on weapons and conflict


INDO Defense arms fair, Jakarta 2014
The European Network Against Arms Trade started to work on arms trade to Southeast Asia in 1994, when it was campaigning, together with Indonesian activists, against arms export to Indonesia, at that time a military dictatorship.

The first publication contained a quote of François Heisbourg, at that time CEO of Matra military missile company (now MBDA). He observed that the increasing arms budgets in South East Asia showed great similarity with that of Europe at the eve of World War I.

Twenty years later, April 2014, David Pilling wrote in the Financial Times

 “Almost every Asian nation is building up its capacity in the air and on the sea. The people of the region must hope that it is a complete waste of money.”

Both quotes express the fear that the arms build-up in Asia contributes to the risk of armed conflict. In his article- 'Asia follows China into an old-fashioned arms race' – Pilling argues, like many observers do, that the trend of increasing arms budgets will gather pace in the coming years. His article was published after the release of Military Expenditure 2013 figures by the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which also highlighted the growth of Asia's military budgets.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies' (IISS) in London estimated, based on 2012 figures, that the Asian defence expenditure is exceeding that of Europe. (See e.g. The European Union As A Security Actor: View From India, Eurasia Review, August 26, 2014.) Due to the present economic crisis, the European budgets are declining, while those in Asia continue to grow. Looking in a more political way at the figures however, one notices that most big Asian spenders belong to the Western sphere of influence: Australia, Japan, Turkey and South-Korea. And as the European Union is still responsible for 16% of military spending and the US even for 37%, the big military spending is still taking place in the West, not in Asia. Based on spending figures one must conclude that Western military superiority is still unchallenged.

Moreover, a division by region instead of continent gives a more balanced view. In green, the regions with declining military budgets in 2013. However in absolute spending figures Europe and the US are still the main military spenders. We have to wait for the 2014 and beyond figures to see if this trend continues. In reaction to the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine on the one hand and the situation in Iraq/Syria on the other hand the trend might reverse into the direction of larger military budgets again. One sees this debate on the political and military level gaining speed. The fact that the UK government recently announced to spend £3.5 billion on armoured vehicles in the next three years while also warning about the dangers of “prioritising social welfare” is an example of where the debate is going. Governments are willing to sacrifice social security (the right of access to nutrition, health care and education) to military security.


Arms Trade
Growing military budgets will benefit military companies. Of the fifteen largest military companies nine are US-based and five are located in Western Europe. Russia has only one military company among the top-fifteen.

Roughly a quarter of the military budgets are spend on arms acquisitions, which makes over 400 billion US$. The rest of the budget is spend on issues such as soldiers wages (50%), fuel, buildings, repair and overhaul etc. Of the 400 billion on arms, roughly one fifth is imported and makes up the global international arms trade. SIPRI gives a value of US$ 43 billion for 2011, but due to the incompleteness of available figures it states that: “However, the true figure is likely to be higher.”

When looking into the most recent figures as provided by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) for 2011: “The value of all arms transfer agreements worldwide (to both developed and developing nations) in 2011 was $85.3 billion. This was an extraordinary increase in arms agreements values (91.7%) over the 2010 total of $44.5 billion. This total in 2011 is by far the highest worldwide arms agreements total since 2004.” In this year 2011, the US has exported its largest amount ever for a single year in the history of the U.S. arms export program: $66.3 billion. Three quarters of the total global arms trade comes from the US. Followed by Russia with $4.8 billion in arms trade agreements in 2011. But the trend is that regional arms producersitself get a share in production of weapons. Indonesia e.g. has the policy that Indonesian firms must control at least 51 per cent of a joint defence project, and the other 49 per cent can be in the hands of its foreign counterpart (2012 Defence Industry Law). The law is part of Indonesia's strategy to provide the country with a strong defence industry by 2024. The policy is financially backed by 100 trillion rupiah ($8.25 billion) since 2010, Indonesia's defence-industry has reached this year 40 per cent of what is considered lowest essential level, according to Timbul Siahaan, the Indonesian director general for defence potential.
The so-called Grimett-report of CRS also shows that the three major arms suppliers to Asia are Russia, the US and Western Europe. 








S Korea (ROK)
United States
Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom

Table: SIPRI database major recipients of arms 2008-2013 

The ranking of SIPRI shows that of the 20 major recipients of arms in the period 2008-2013, the first three were Asian, notably 1) India, 2) China and 3) Pakistan. Singapore ranked 8, Malaysia ranked 16 and Vietnam ranked 19, all three are South East Asian countries.

A case study: Cam Song military shipyard

To give some insight in the world of arms trade we will have a closer look at an example of trade between the Netherlands and Vietnam. Just 100 kilometres east from Hanoi, at Cam Song, the biggest Dutch naval shipbuilder has established a Dutch-Vietnamese wharf joint venture. As soon as the wharf was established, it started to build small vessels for the Australian navy. But more important are the plans to build four major surface vessels for the Vietnam navy, equipped with MBDA Exocet surface target missiles and 12x MBDA MICA VL surface-to-air missiles. Although often described as patrol vessels for coast guard duties, these ships have much more capabilities than just for patrols; notably when armed with these missiles these are full scale warships. Two of the ships will be build in the Netherlands, the other two in Vietnam. It is a win-win for both owners for which Vietnam will pay an estimated € 700 á 800 million. Although the price of the ships is kept secret so far, it can be deduced from the size of the ships and recent comparable sales to Morocco and Indonesia. The deal will most likely include technology transfers; no arms deal is thinkable without that nowadays. So far, no arms export license is applied for by the Netherlands seller, probably due to difficulties in providing finance for this major arms transfer. The four ships are a clear example of regional naval build-up.

The Netherlands is not the only country doing military business with Hanoi. In the autumn of 2014, the United Stated eased its arms embargo on Vietnam. The decision prompted reaction by some republican US-senators urging President Obama to rethink his decision to ease a decades-old arms embargo and instead condition US arms sales to Vietnam upon specific progress to Vietnam’s human rights record. But the message is mixed with other interests. They also want to see Vietnam beefed-up against China “In their letter to the President, the senators expressed support for U.S. efforts to help improve Vietnam’s maritime defence capabilities given China’s aggressive territorial claims.” Arms exports may be authorized in the best interests of U.S. foreign policy, national security, and human rights concerns on a case-by-case basis when in support of maritime security and domain awareness, states the Final rule. Human Rights and Power politics go hand-in-hand here.

This brings us to the issue of territorial disputes around the Paracels and Spratlys, to which these naval build-ups seem to be a response. These disputes are big issue in South East Asia, but not well-known in Europe (apart from some scholars). One can legitimately ask the question why there should be such a military build-up when diplomatic solutions can lower the tension, as is shown by the recent agreement. One can even ask if these military build-ups do not endanger more peacefull solutions such as diplomacy. Those questions are rarely asked but but to ask them might be in the interest of the people of South East Asia.

Another main Dutch arms producer, Thales Netherlands, is not only involved in the Vietnam deal, but is at the same time working with the Chinese supposed enemy. The Dutch company is supplying the radar and command, control, and communication systems for Chinese build warships to be sold to Algeria (a €21 million or US$28 million deal). On the website of renowned military publisher IHS Jane's is stated: “To mitigate concerns about possible industrial espionage in China, Thales will install sensitive components and software only after the vessels have been delivered to Algeria.” But it is undeniable that the cooperation between Thales Nederland and China Shipbuilding is strengthening the later and is profitable for both. The cooperation sands the barriers of the EU military embargo on China. Two major Dutch arms producers are supporting two parties in the same conflict on the Spratlys. Armed forces and governments on one side of the globe and arms companies on the other side stress that the military 'solution' to a conflict is the sensible way, more effective than any other, more sustainable solution. One can wonder if it is about peace and security or about profit and power.

Arms trade campaigning
NGO's in Europe campaigning on arms trade mostly focus on corruption in arms deals, the relation between arms trade and human rights violations and the abuse of scarce resources in the country of destination for expensive arms contracts. Most campaigners and researchers on arms trade consider South East Asia as a region for specialists. The raising military export to the region however demands more attention.

One way in getting more influence as a campaigner is just to publicize the facts. Here under a screen shot of the European Network Against Arms Trade database, based on the fairly inaccessible official annual EU reports on arms sales. Information in this database can be filtered for year, weapon type and country of origin or destination. It is a easy tool for a quick overview. In the example data have been selected on year 2012 and country of destination China.

Final remark

The arms trade is a push market, where companies work hard to get new costumers convinced of the need of the newest, most expensive technology. South East Asia is a very profitable region for European arms companies. People should worry for the peace in South East Asia, as Financial Times journalist Pillings was quoted at the beginning of this article. Arms races generally do not contribute to peace and security, on the contrary.

Martin Broek
Published: Stop Wapenhandel, November 2014 
Made possible with the kind support of the Trans National Institute (TNI).

Stop Wapenhandel is an independent foundation researching and campaigning against arms trade and arms production. Stop Wapenhandel is supported by gifts. Please help and donate on bank account NL.11.TRIO.0390.407.380 for Stop Wapenhandel, Amsterdam