Cracks appear in EU/Saudi arms contracts

A German newspaper has reported that Angela Merkel is cancelling arms exports to the repressive kingdom


Yesterday the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported that Angela Merkel had decided to stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia.

The German national security council holds its meetings in secret, and has so far declined to comment on the article. The paper said that due to the ‘unstable’ nature of the Kingdom at present, the council had decided not to approve arms exports until further notice.

It is unclear what the motives for the cancellation are – it could be that the death of King Abdullah has indeed destabilised the country, or that the spread of IS militants nearby makes the Gulf state too risky an investment. It is also possible that the recent media attention on Saudi human rights abuses, and on its funding of Wahabbi extremism, has led Germany to withdraw military support.

Germany is the world’s third-largest arms exporter, and has been criticised many times over the years for supplying arms to dubious regimes. Saudi Arabia paid German weapons manufacturers €360m in 2013. In February of last year, De Spiegel published a classified letter revealing government plans to provide guarantees for the export of over 100 patrol and border control boats to Saudi Arabia,with a value totalling €1.4 billion. So how does this compare to the UK?

In 2014, Saudi Arabia was the UK’s biggest arms market. According to figures released by CAAT this month, Westminster has exported £2bn worth of arms to the Kingdom over the past three years. Saudi Arabia is the second biggest foreign customer of BAE Systems, the largest British arms company.

In 1985 Margaret Thatcher negotiated the biggest ever arms deal struck between two countries, with the signing of the Al-Yamamah arms contract. In exchange for British Tornado fighter planes, helicopters, tanks and ammunitions, the Saudis would provide 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the British government.

In 2001 there were investigations into alleged fraud surrounding the deal, but Tony Blair intervened to halt them, concerned about a breakdown in the UK/Saudi alliance. With the British eye on the Middle East largely trained on Iraq in the following years, details of arms deals with the Saudis have slipped out of the limelight.

The British government are also currently in negotiations to seal a £5.9m contract to provide ‘prison expertise’ to Saudi Arabia. How close the Ministry of Justice should get to a regime which, as well as prisons, uses beheading, flogging and amputation as means of punishment is questionable.

If Germany has withdrawn support, it will mean yet more pressure on David Cameron to consider very carefully his continued support of the authoritarian regime.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter 

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