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Why More And More Countries Are Blocking Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And The UAE

TruthNGO- 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.

As reported by Forbes, reports from Madrid this week said the government had canceled a deal to sell 400 laser-guided bombs to Riyadh. A down-payment of €9.2m ($10.7m) 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 $352m worth of weaponry to Riyadh between 2014 and 2017. That represents a fairly small fraction of the $13.2bn in arms purchases by Saudi Arabia over that period.

The largest arms suppliers to Riyadh are the U.S., with $8.4bn worth of sales since 2014, followed by the UK ($2.6bn) and France ($475m).

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 Sécurité Ethique Républicaines (Aser) and Droit Solidarité – 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.

Sales suspended

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 Niinistö 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. Niinistö 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$14.8bn ($11.3bn) 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 U.S. 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.

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