In English

European Arms Exports Contributing to Wars

Parliament Magazine 2.10.2013

While the EU adheres to the common position on arms exports, there are gaps in transparency within the member states' military supply activities, writes Tarja Cronberg.

The EU may well currently be the second largest arms exporter in the world. Our arms are exported to all conflict areas of the world, especially to the Middle East. The three main destinations of EU arms are Saudi Arabia, the US and the UAE.

Conflicts raise the demand for weapons and, in turn, wars are upheld and supported by arms exports. From a global perspective, the EU adheres to the most advanced and binding export control standards, the so-called common position on arms exports. It states that arms should not be exported to countries where human rights violations occur, or to countries that re-export arms to third countries. It prescribes risk analyses based on eight criteria that guide national licensing policies. In light of this, exports to Saudi Arabia are questionable.

The aim of the common position has been to increase transparency. The common position has undoubtedly improved the situation regarding this as EU member states are now obliged to compile an annual report on arms exports to be submitted to the European council and to each other stating what kind of arms have been exported and to which countries. This provides some transparency as regards member states' arms exports.

However, transparency has its limits. Despite the obligations, not all countries produce the report; last year, 17 out of 27 member states did so. Reporting activities have in fact decreased during the last few years. The reports made available by important arms exporters, such as Germany, France and Great Britain, are simply inadequate. In Great Britain, for instance, the government has been accused of retreating from its previous commitment to increase public accountability as regards the export of arms and military supplies.

The most significant problem in reporting relates to the fact that it is almost impossible to compare the exports of two member states on the basis of the reports, even regarding the same country of destination. It is, for example, not visible from the reports whether one export country has refused arms exports to a certain country of destination whereas another has accepted them. Especially in these cases, a common position would be important. Are there any human rights violations in the country of destination? Are there risks involved or not? These questions must be asked.

Member states only register the date for accepted exports, not when arms are being shipped. During the Arab spring things changed rapidly. Finland, for example, managed to export weapons to Bahrain by registering licenses through different authorities and for separate years. The actual arms export took place in 2011, when conflict and human rights violations were already widespread. Risk analysis as to human rights violations are thus becoming more and more important.

When exporting arms to so-called post-embargo states, cooperation between countries is essential. A common position would require consultations, but there are inadequacies in the procedures.

EU member states are currently cutting their defence spending. This implies that less money is available for arms deals. Each country is keen on supporting its own defence industry and aims to safeguard its export activities. Employment provided in the weapons industry is an argument commonly used to support arms exports regardless of the common position. Hopefully the euro crisis will not turn the common position into a paper tiger that nobody takes seriously. Especially as, so far, it has been an important basis for working on an agreement on a global arms exports accord.

One also has to keep in mind that the arms export industry benefits from a situation where all parties follow the same rules. The European industry is benefiting from the fact that it has a good global reputation and that it represents European values, human values, democracy and the rule of law. Transparency will also represent a competitive advantage in the future. This is something to keep in mind when discussing military industry, technology and so-called pooling and sharing in the European parliament this autumn.

Tarja Cronberg is a member of parliament's security and defence subcommittee

» Back to listing

» Sivun alkuun