Smoking Guns: Are European Arms Exports Fuelling Wars in MENA Region and Worldwide?

Written by | Friday, July 30th, 2021

Researchers have found a direct link between European arms exports and the forced displacement of at least 1.1 million people. “The figure of 1.1 million is a conservative estimate based on these case studies which geolocate European arms within a specific timeframe,” said Niamh Ni Bhriain from the Dutch-based Transnational Institute (TNI). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict flared up again in the Gaza Strip in May 2021, while Yemen has entered into its 7th year of war causing catastrophic levels of hunger, to name just two examples among dozens of active conflicts currently raging worldwide. So is Europe, and particularly its defence industry, fueling these conflicts?
Italy is the 4th biggest weapons exporter in the European Union and Leonardo is the largest Italian arms producer and it is ranked 12th worldwide. And anti-military activists have been very vocal about Italy’s exports, in recent years, of more than 50% of its weapon systems to the Middle East and North Africa that may have played a role in sustaining armed conflicts across the region. Leonardo’s exports include armored vehicles, aircrafts and ships, totalling around three billion euros a year. The documentary entitled ‘Produced in Italy Bombed in Yemen’ produced by the NGO Mwatana claims that some Italian arms exports also ended up on the battle field in Northern Yemen. A Yemeni NGO field officer combed through an area of alleged Saudi bombing and found parts of some explosives with serial numbers that indicate that they were produced by the Italian Company RWM, a subsidiary of the German Rheinmetall. In the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi Arabia was Italy’s third most important client last year after Egypt and Qatar.
Yet it’s not only Italy but also other European countries, notably Belgium, Germany, France and Spain that have allowed their companies to export arms to Saudi Arabia. France, Germany, Spain and Italy are the main exporters in the EU. The evidence of European weapons there is well documented in videos from the investigative journalism project ‘Lighthouse Reports’. Pressured by anti-war activists, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, The Netherlands and Italy have stopped or restricted their exports to the Saudis. But not France, the EU’s first arms exporter and the world’s third-biggest. Amnesty International says they have evidence of France selling various kinds of military equipment to the Saudi-led coalition. French artillery, ammunition and combat vehicles have been found in Yemen.
Still, European arms sales are not allowed everywhere, at all times. Several international treaties state that war and human rights violations should, in theory, prevent such sales. The main ones that indicate this are the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty and the European Common Position. They both thoroughly regulate arms exports and they follow the same principles. But despite these regulations, though the main destination for France’s arms exports in the last five years were Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Europe’s No.1 exporter also sold arms to the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Israel, Ethiopia and Afghanistan among many others. Meanwhile, Germany has exported to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, but also to countries like South Sudan and Somalia. Spain and Italy’s exports have also headed to the same volatile destinations.

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