Finally, lawmakers from several states are starting to raise serious doubts about weapons sales to Saudi. The Swedish Parliament began the debate last June with a report proposing defence exports should be subject to a ‘democracy criterion’, but last month the Dutch Parliament passed a bill calling for the government to end weapons exports, while the British Committee on Arms Export Controls has just published their inquiry into arms sales to the Gulf.
Then, this week, a US Senator, Chris Murphy, finally articulated what many of his security focussed colleagues must surely been thinking for years: weapons sales to Saudi are simply not in the US’s national security interest.
Saudi is now the largest importer of defence equipment worldwide, the third largest military spender, and has provided a significant boost to the profits of defence industries across Europe and the US. But before capitalising on the evident short term opportunity, the question exporting governments ought to be asking is whether transferring vast amounts of advanced military capability to the Middle East is really contributing to regional stability and security.
Saudi’s intervention in Yemen’s civil war throws into sharp relief the underlying risks of exporting military capability to states where there is a significant risk of diversion, corruption vulnerability within defence institutions is high, and ruling elites face barely any checks and balances on their decision-making. And as Murphy points out, Saudi’s venture in Yemen, fuelled by U.S.-made weapons is “clearly creating more, not less, space for extremist groups to operate”.
But this is only the most recent evidence that Saudi might not be the trusted defence partner the West would like it to be. Saudi has a track record in passing arms to groups that are unable to purchase weapons themselves due to sanctions or a lack of funds – whether buying Russian arms on behalf of the Egypt’s government, supplying weapons to Syrian opposition groups, or marketing for export weapons that are only licensed for their own use. And yet leading western nations continue to push deals through to the Saudis and other similarly dubious recipients.
So the public in the US and Europe might rightly ask: is a close defence relationship with such governments a great bet for our common security in the long term? (end of excerpt)
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