British arms companies ramp up bomb sales to Saudi Arabia by 100 times despite air strikes on civilians

The Independent reports: British arms companies have cashed-in on Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen by ramping up arms sales to the country’s autocratic government by over a hundred times, new figures show.

Sales of British bombs and missiles to the Saudi Arabia surged to over £1bn just three months last year, according to an official record of arms export licences quietly released by the Government this week.

The sales, up from just £9m in the preceding three-month period, have occurred while the oil-rich autocracy conducts a military campaign in its neighbour’s territory, where the United Nations has said a “humanitarian catastrophe” is unfolding. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. foreign arms deals surge by 35% in 2014

The New York Times reports: Foreign arms sales by the United States jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, about 35 percent, even as the global weapons market remained flat and competition among suppliers increased, a new congressional study has found.

American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, bolstered by multibillion-dollar agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Those deals and others ensured that the United States remained the single largest provider of arms around the world last year, controlling just over 50 percent of the market.

Russia followed the United States as the top weapons supplier, completing $10.2 billion in sales, compared with $10.3 billion in 2013. Sweden was third, with roughly $5.5 billion in sales, followed by France with $4.4 billion and China with $2.2 billion.

South Korea, a key American ally, was the world’s top weapons buyer in 2014, completing $7.8 billion in contracts. It has faced continued tensions with neighboring North Korea in recent years over the North’s nuclear weapons program and other provocations. The bulk of South Korea’s purchases, worth more than $7 billion, were made with the United States and included transport helicopters and related support, as well as advanced unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.

Iraq followed South Korea, with $7.3 billion in purchases intended to build up its military in the wake of the American troop withdrawal there. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS: The munitions trail

Financial Times reports: As a known arms dealer for rebels fighting Isis in his east Syrian home town, Abu Ali was sure his days were numbered when, a year ago, two jihadi commanders stepped out of their pickup truck and walked towards him.

He was baffled when they handed him a printed paper. “It read, ‘This person is permitted to buy and sell all types of weaponry inside the Islamic State,’” recalls Abu Ali. “It was even stamped ‘Mosul Centre’.”
Rather than being detained or expelled as they had feared when the jihadi group swept through eastern Syria last year, many black-market traders such as Abu Ali were courted by Isis. They were absorbed into a complex system of supply and demand that keeps the world’s richest jihadi group stocked with munitions across a self-proclaimed “caliphate” spanning half of Syria and a third of Iraq.

“They buy like mad. They buy every day: morning, afternoon and night,” says Abu Ali, who, like others who have operated inside Isis territories, asked not to be identified by his real name.

Isis seized weapons worth hundreds of millions dollars when it captured Iraq’s second city, Mosul, in the summer of 2014. Since then, in every battle that it has won, it has acquired more material. Its arsenal includes US-made Abrams tanks, M16 rifles, MK-19 40mm grenade launchers (seized from the Iraqi army) and Russian M-46 130mm field guns (taken from Syrian forces).

But dealers say despite this, there is one thing Isis still needs: ammunition. Most in demand are rounds for Kalashnikov assault rifles, medium-calibre machine guns and 14.5mm and 12.5mm anti-aircraft guns. Isis also buys rocket-propelled grenades and sniper bullets, but in smaller quantities. [Continue reading…]

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Calls for investigation into Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen

The Guardian reports: There must be “proper investigations” to ensure that Saudi Arabia has not breached international humanitarian law in the war in Yemen, according to Britain’s foreign secretary, who said that shipments of UK-supplied weapons would be halted if the Saudis fell foul of those probes.

Philip Hammond’s comments came as Britain is being urged to halt the supply of weapons to Riyadh in the light of evidence that civilians are being killed in Saudi-led attacks on rebel forces in Yemen.

Amnesty International has warned that “damning evidence of war crimes” highlights the urgent need for an independent investigation of violations and for the suspension of transfer of arms used in the attacks.

Speaking during a visit to the US, Hammond told BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday that he had discussed the use of the weapons in Yemen when he visited Saudi Arabia recently.

“The Saudis deny that there have been any breaches of international humanitarian law,” he said. “Obviously that denial alone is not enough. We need to see proper investigations. We need to work with the Saudis to establish that international humanitarian law has been complied with. We have an export licensing system that responds if we find that it is not. We will then find that we cannot licence additional shipments of weapons.” [Continue reading…]

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Amnesty tells the U.S. to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Mother Jones reports: Citing “damning evidence of war crimes,” Amnesty International has condemned America’s continued support of Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen. In a report released yesterday, the human-rights organization called on the United States to stop selling bombs, fighter jets, and combat helicopters to the Saudis

The nearly seven-month-old conflict, which pits Saudi Arabia and a coalition of allied states against anti-government rebels, has claimed thousands of civilian lives. More than two-thirds of those were killed by Saudi-led air strikes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. While Saudi Arabia claims to only be targeting military targets, bombs have been dropped on power stations, water supplies, schools, hospitals, and a camp for displaced people.

The United States has been aiding the Saudi-led coalition with weaponry, logistics, and intelligence support. Washington and Riyadh inked $90 billion in arms deals between 2010 and 2014, and at least another $7.8 billion in new arms deals have been announced since Saudi Arabia’s air campaign began in March. Among the remnants of American-made bombs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have found on the ground in Yemen are two types of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are banned by more than 100 countries because of the risk they pose to civilians. [Continue reading…]

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Obama has sold more arms globally than any president since World War II

CJ Werleman writes: Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a mere 12 days into his presidency. Never had a recipient achieved so little to be lauded so much. Essentially it was a pre-emptive award given on the presumption Obama’s foreign policy record would eventually meet its promise.

In the six-years since becoming planet earth’s most recognised agent for world peace, Obama has failed to close Guantanamo Bay, which remains the symbol of the darkest chapter in modern US history; has assassinated US citizens around the globe sans due process; has suspended habeas corpus; has terrorised villagers in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere with the incessant buzzing sound of weaponised drones; armed Israel in the midst of its brutal and bloody invasion of Gaza, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead; toppled a government in Libya without so much as a consideration for what might come next; supported the toppling of a democratically elected government in Egypt, and, in turn, armed arguably the most brutal dictator in that country’s history; and has coordinated and guided Saudi Arabia’s terrorist activities in Yemen, which has left more than 4,000 Yemeni civilians dead.

It’s a record to behold with some awe, and it gets worse.

A newly released report reveals Obama is the greatest arms exporter since the Second World War. The dollar value of all major arms deals overseen by the first five years of the Obama White House now exceeds the amount overseen by the Bush White House in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion.

America’s arms-dealer-in-chief has flooded the most volatile corner of the world, the Middle East, with guns, bombs, fighter jets, tanks and missiles. [Continue reading…]

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Yemenis are terrorized by a weapon made in America, sold to the Saudis

PRI reports: A Yemeni man described the chaos that accompanied an air strike near his village on a Monday morning in April, the day of the weekly market.

“Hundreds of people from the surrounding villages were in al-Amar when the bombs were dropped,” he told Human Rights Watch. “When people saw the parachutes they fled, leaving all their produce, cars and livestock. I went to find out what the parachutes had dropped. I do not know what it is, but I thought it was important to keep away from children who might play with it.”

He told Human Rights Watch he’d heard that the attack had wounded two people. HRW confirmed that several people injured in the incident were treated at a local hospital. The objects the Yemeni man discovered on the ground were later identified by HRW as parts of a US-made weapon, the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon from Textron Systems of Wilmington, Massachusetts. [Continue reading…]

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Throughout history, debt and war have been constant partners

Giles Frazer writes: Somewhere in a Greek jail, the former defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, watches the financial crisis unfold. I wonder how partly responsible he feels? In 2013, Akis (as he is popularly known) went down for 20 years, finally succumbing to the waves of financial scandal to which his name had long been associated. For alongside the lavish spending, the houses and the dodgy tax returns, there was bribery, and it was the €8m appreciation he received from the German arms dealer, Ferrostaal, for the Greek government’s purchase of Type 214 submarines, that sent him to prison.

There is this idea that the Greeks got themselves into this current mess because they paid themselves too much for doing too little. Well, maybe. But it’s not the complete picture. For the Greeks also got themselves into debt for the oldest reason in the book – one might even argue, for the very reason that public debt itself was first invented – to raise and support an army. The state’s need for quick money to raise an army is how industrial-scale money lending comes into business (in the face of the church’s historic opposition to usury). Indeed, in the west, one might even stretch to say that large-scale public debt began as a way to finance military intervention in the Middle East – ie the crusades. And just as rescuing Jerusalem from the Turks was the justification for massive military spending in the middle ages, so the fear of Turkey has been the reason given for recent Greek spending. Along with German subs, the Greeks have bought French frigates, US F16s and German Leopard 2 tanks. In the 1980s, for example, the Greeks spent an average of 6.2% of their GDP on defence compared with a European average of 2.9%. In the years following their EU entry, the Greeks were the world’s fourth-highest spenders on conventional weaponry.

So, to recap: corrupt German companies bribed corrupt Greek politicians to buy German weapons. And then a German chancellor presses for austerity on the Greek people to pay back the loans they took out (with Germans banks) at massive interest, for the weapons they bought off them in the first place. Is this an unfair characterisation? A bit. It wasn’t just Germany. And there were many other factors at play in the escalation of Greek debt. But the postwar difference between the Germans and the Greeks is not the tired stereotype that the former are hardworking and the latter are lazy, but rather that, among other things, the Germans have, for obvious reasons, been restricted in their military spending. And they have benefited massively from that. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. to resume military aid to Bahrain despite human rights criticism

IB Times reports: The United States said on Monday that it would lift its ban on providing security and military aid to Bahrain, which was imposed after the Gulf state cracked down on Shia-led protests in 2011. U.S. officials said the decision was taken because Bahrain had made meaningful reforms since then.

However, Washington did not specify the weapons or military equipment that would be sent to the country.

Dozens of people died when the government clamped down on protesters in 2011, who were demanding that the ruling Sunni family end its discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. needs to stop tiptoeing around the ‘killer robots’ threat

Mary Wareham writes: When it comes to banning “killer robots,” the United States is going to take some convincing. That was one major take-away from April’s multilateral meeting on the matter where a US delegation joined 90 other nations at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss what to do about the development of “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

In November 2012, the US became the first nation to articulate a detailed policy on killer robots, citing a long list of concerns and obstacles that would have to be overcome before developing and acquiring them. It has been careful, however, to stress that Department of Defense Directive 3000.09 “neither encourages nor prohibits the development” of future autonomous weapons systems.

Indeed, it appears that of all nations, the US is the farthest along in moving toward fully autonomous weapons. Last November, The New York Times reviewed several examples of missile systems with various degrees and forms of human control under development or in use by the US, Israel, Norway, and the UK.

Despite its investment in “semi-autonomous” weapons, the US has been one of the strongest supporters of international talks on questions relating to the emerging technology of lethal autonomous weapons systems held by the Convention on Conventional Weapons. The US participated actively in the meetings in May 2014 and April 2015. But the US’s eagerness to engage in talks about such weapons should fool no one into believing it supports a ban. At the discussions last month it was one of only two nations (the other was Israel) saying that the door should remain open for future development and acquisition of these weapons. [Continue reading…]

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Where ISIS gets its weapons

C.J. Chivers reports: Early one morning in late February, a European investigator working in Kobani, the northern Syrian city that for months had been a battleground between Kurdish fighters and militants from the Islamic State, stepped outside the building where he was staying and saw something unusual. A Kurd on the street was carrying a long black assault rifle that the investigator thought was an American-made M-16.

Many M-16s, the conventional wisdom goes, entered Syria after militants seized thousands of them from Iraq’s struggling security forces, which in turn had received the guns — along with armored vehicles, howitzers and warehouses’ worth of other equipment — from the Pentagon before American troops left the country in 2011. The militants’ abrupt possession of former American matériel was part of the battlefield turnabout last summer that led Julian E. Barnes, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, to tweet a proposed name for the Pentagon’s anti-militant bombing campaign: Operation Hey That’s My Humvee. And yet by this year, for all the attention the captured weapons had received, M-16s were seemingly uncommon in Syria. The expected large quantities had eluded researchers.

The investigator urged his host, a local security official, to rush after the Kurd and ask if he would allow the rifle to be photographed and its origins ascertained. Soon the investigator (who works for Conflict Armament Research, a private arms-tracking organization in Britain, and who asked that his name be withheld for safety reasons) found a surprise within his surprise. The rifle, which its current owner said had been captured from the Islamic State last year, was not an M-16. It was a Chinese CQ, an M-16 knockoff that resembles its predecessor but has a starkly different arms-trafficking history.

The rifle’s serial number had been obscured by grinding, and the roughed-up spot had been retouched with black paint. That two-step effort at obscuring the weapon’s provenance was identical — down to the dimensions of the grinding — to that of Chinese CQ rifles that Conflict Armament Research and the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group in Geneva, had documented in 2013 in the possession of rebels in South Sudan and had traced to a Sudanese intelligence service. The Kurd’s rifle cartridges, too, were from the same Chinese manufacturer (Factory 71) and the same production year (2008) as those previously found in South Sudan.

This was a moment of discovery. The investigator, looking for one thing, had found something else: evidence suggesting that the Islamic State had obtained weapons flowing into Syria from East Africa.

It was one significant data point among many. Since last year, investigators for Conflict Armament Research — which plans to release its latest findings regarding the militants’ weaponry this week — have been methodically cataloging the equipment captured from Islamic State fighters, more than 30,000 items in all. Taken as a whole, they suggest a phenomenon contributing to the Islamic State’s tenacity and power: The group occupies the downstream position in a vast arms watershed, with tributaries extending to distant corners of the world. [Continue reading…]

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How Middle East wars have created a boom for American defense contractors

The New York Times reports: To wage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is using F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing. Pilots from the United Arab Emirates are flying Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. Soon, the Emirates are expected to complete a deal with General Atomics for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in their neighborhood.

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

Last week, defense industry officials told Congress that they were expecting within days a request from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt — to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

The United States has long put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms can sell to Arab nations, meant to ensure that Israel keeps a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region. But because Israel and the Arab states are now in a de facto alliance against Iran, the Obama administration has been far more willing to allow the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf, with few public objections from Israel.

“When you look at it, Israel’s strategic calculation is a simple one,” said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The gulf countries “do not represent a meaningful threat” to Israel, he said. “They do represent a meaningful counterbalance to Iran.”

Industry analysts and Middle East experts say that the region’s turmoil, and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy, will lead to a surge in new orders for the defense industry’s latest, most high-tech hardware. [Continue reading…]

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Sweden tears up arms agreement with Saudi Arabia over blocked speech

The Guardian reports: Sweden has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from speaking about human rights to a summit of Arab leaders.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the deal was off, removing a cause of division within the country’s left-leaning coalition but deepening a rift with business leaders who implored the government to prolong the agreement.

On Monday, foreign minister Margot Wallström complained at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that Saudi Arabia had objected to her planned speech on democracy and women’s rights. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes.

But on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallström’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia [law],” according to a statement issued at the end of their Arab League meeting and published by Gulf News.

“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement said.

Sweden first signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Saudi Arabia in 2005, setting out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paving the way for the sale of Saab’s Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. The agreement had to be ratified by each side every five years, and its renewal date was due in May. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt turns to France for weapons with U.S. still wary of delivering military aid

Vice News: Speaking at a political conference Sunday in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi unveiled a $1.31 billion budget for counterterrorism efforts in the eastern Sinai Peninsula, an area that has repeatedly been hit by militant attacks. Addressing politicians in the Egyptian capital, Sisi announced he is looking to France to supply Egypt with much-needed modern military equipment.

The US halted the delivery of 20 F-16 fighter jets, 125 M1-A1 battle tank kits, and 20 Harpoon cruise missiles to Egypt following the 2013 coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi, but 10 Apache helicopters included in the original deal were reportedly delivered last month. The US also suspended a portion of the $1.3 billion worth economic and military aid delivered annually to Egypt, though the withheld funds were released last June after Congress passed a law that requires the Egyptian government to take steps to improve human rights conditions in order to receive the aid.

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Most of ISIS’s ammunition was made in the U.S. and China

The New York Times reports: In its campaign across northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group Islamic State has been using ammunition from the United States and other countries that have been supporting the regional security forces fighting the group, according to new field data gathered by a private arms-tracking organization.

The data, part of a larger sample of captured arms and cartridges in Syria and Iraq, carries an implicit warning for policy makers and advocates of intervention.

It suggests that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power. Rifle cartridges from the United States, the sample shows, have played a significant role.

“The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition,” said James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, the organization that is gathering and analyzing weapons used by the Islamic State.[Continue reading…]

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