Khashoggi murder and weapons sales to the Saudis: for the West, business wins out
So far, only Germany wants to halt arms sales. For Trump, 110 billion dollars cannot be written off. In different ways Canada, Spain and France are doing the same. Italy is tongue-tied. On the horizon, China and Russia are ready to take over this growth market.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) – The Khashoggi affair and the shadows it has cast over Saudi leaders, especially Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), have put the spotlight back on a major issue of concern among Western leaders and NGOs: weapons sales.
Since the murder of the US-based Saudi journalist, only Germany has announced plans to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The reaction among other countries range from business as usual (United States) to some disingenuous or genuine sense of remorse in others (Canada).
The US is one of the countries most keen on selling weapons. “I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of 0 billion into the United States,” said US President Donald Trump speaking on the matter.
Likewise, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whilst horrified by the brutal murder, said that “If you ask me where I stand today, it is in the defence of the interests of Spain, of jobs in strategic sectors in areas badly affected by the drama that is unemployment”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government plans to evaluate whether or not to follow through with the most important Canadian weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, namely 742 light armoured vehicles. The Canadian leader said that all options will be examined but added that cancelling the contract would be very difficult.
France said instead that it will decide only when responsibilities or guilt will be determined. Conversely, China and Russia are ready to step in a market worth billions of dollars.
For many Western countries, the Saudi kingdom has been a privileged arms customer. Riyadh is in fact the second largest buyer of weapons after India for the period between 2013 and 2017.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), its weapons imports have increased by 225 per cent compared to 2008-2012.
The United States and Great Britain are among Saudi Arabia’s main supplirs to Saudi Arabia, 61 and 23.5 per cent respectively. Italy and Spain also have a significant share of that market.
In fact, “the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme in a statement.
Such a flourishing market has not lost any luster despite accusations by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres against Saudi Arabia, which has been included in the UN blacklist of countries that violate children's rights in conflict areas.
The main bone of contention, and a source of Saudi anger (supported by its US ally), is the victimisation of children in the ongoing Yemen war.
In March 2018, the US State Department announced the sale of weapons to the Saudis worth around a billion dollars, including missiles, spare parts for tanks and US-made helicopters.
This agreement was the result of a prior meeting between MbS and US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who rebooted the Washington-Riyadh axis against Iran.
Italy, too, has a vested interest in the Saudi market, and so far, the Italian government has not made any official statement about the Khashoggi affair, fearing perhaps the reaction of its Saudi partner.
In 2017 the kingdom bought about € 45 million worth of Italian bombs (UN source) that were used in the Yemen war. This amount came on top of € 245 million worth of fighter planes and spare parts already agreed upon in previous contracts.