Can we continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia?

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After Germany and Sweden, it is Spain's turn to question the moral responsibility of the country when it sells arms to Saudi Arabia, itself engaged in a destructive war with very fundamental foundations. doubtful. Thus, the Spanish government has announced its intention to cancel an order for 400 guided bombs for the Saudi air force, these bombs could be used in the conflict in Yemen.

As could be expected, the authorities of the Saudi Kingdom quickly weighed this order, for an altogether modest amount of 9,2 million euros, with the 1,8 billion euros of the order for 5 corvettes to Navantia, contract signed only a few months ago during Crown Prince bin Salman's tour of Europe.

In France too, voices are being raised to denounce the sale of arms to various countries, the classification of which often depends on the interlocutor. Thus, if many voices in France readily denounce arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Egypt, these same voices were, for the most part, moved by the cancellation of the delivery of the 2 BPCs to Russia following the annexation of Crimea.

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A quick reading of the problem concludes by opposing the moral imperatives to the economic imperatives of the country. That said, in all cases, the purchasing country will very quickly find another arms supplier in the event of France's withdrawal from a market. Furthermore, the sale of arms ensures partial but real control vis-à-vis the importing country, as was the case when France prevented Argentina from using the majority of its exocet missiles in the Falklands, or when of the Desert Storm campaign, the allied planes having decoys to decoy the French missiles used by the Iraqi air force. These two arguments tend to favor a “pragmatic” position, which has long been that of France, and which has been justified according to these arguments.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore that such contracts harm the very image of the country, and legalistic or moral justifications during intervention abroad.

Closer study reveals a much more fundamental problem than the moral dilemma. Indeed, it reveals the critical exposure of our Defense industries to risks linked to exports. Today, exports represent 50% of the turnover of French defense industries, which employ 200.000 direct employees, and generate 600 to 800.000 induced jobs. 

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These exports are therefore essential to the maintenance and very survival of this industry, especially since of the 50% of “domestic” turnover, a quarter is devoted to deterrence and its confidential and non-exportable technologies.

Furthermore, these exports are very often concentrated in a small number of countries. Since 2005, more than 70% of French exports of Defense equipment have come from 5 countries (China, India, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia), further aggravating this exposure to risk.

Because other players are now investing in the global arms market, such as Turkey, Israel, South Korea and even Japan. But it is above all the arrival of China which risks profoundly disrupting this market, and significantly reducing French, and even European, opportunities in Africa, Asia and South America. Let us also not forget the very marked return of Russia and the aggressiveness of the United States, which is reaching heights never equaled until now.

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In fact, the French and European Defense industry will have to evolve very quickly to survive. It is more than likely that many European players will no longer be there by 2030.

Today there are three voices that would allow us to resist this global restructuring:

  • The concentration of European companies, with its corollary, is to stop offering turnkey factories as an offset solution to each equipment contract.
  • Protect Defense markets on a European scale, both through political initiatives (Europe of Defense) and through economic initiatives (shared tax compensation)
  • Finally, and above all, it will be necessary to increase the volumes of “domestic” orders, so that the relative exposure to export risk is reduced to reasonable levels that do not expose the company in the event of a problem (20 -25% maximum)

It is under these conditions, and under these conditions only, that European countries will be able to preserve their defense industry and their strategic autonomy, while strengthening European credibility on the international scene. And this will, thereby, simplify moral decisions on arms exports...

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