EU must stop selling arms - it's hypocrisy

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EU must stop selling arms – it’s hypocrisy

by Andrew Smith


Weapons of war in Libya. (BRQ Network under a Creative Commons Licence)

"The EU exists to protect human rights and to promote peace and European values". Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council

It is the third anniversary of the Arab Spring in Egypt, but the situation is still unstable. Forty-nine people were killed at the anniversary protests. And at the same time, one former president is going on trial and the they are electing a new president.

So you would expect the powers of Europe to support the Egyptian people and help democracy in the area. But you would be wrong. The latest European Union (EU) arms exports report (with information about 2012), shows that EU countries increased the instability by allowing more arms sales than ever before to the Egyptian government: €363,212,688 ($492 million). This includes €16 million ($21.6 million) of ‘weapon firing equipment’, €28 million ($38 million) of ‘exploding devices’ and €46 million ($62 million) of ‘military vehicles’.

And Egypt was not the only unstable country to have a big increase. Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also bought a lot of arms: more than $3 billion (Oman) and $2 billion (UAE). There are 51 authoritarian governments in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2012, and the EU sells military goods to 43 of the 51. In total, $13 billion of arms was sold to the Middle East. This is more than ever before – an increase of 22 per cent.

The basis of the EU should be a commitment to human rights and democracy. This needs to be the basis of its foreign policy. Selling arms is not ethical; and it is only thinking of the near future. This is very clear to see in the case of Libya.

In 2004 the EU was allowed to sell arms to Libya again (after the “embargo”). Almost immediately, the EU countries tried to sell arms to Qadafi. In 2010, EU countries sold $484 million of arms (including ‘weapon firing equipment’, ‘ammunition’ and ‘explosive devices’). This continued until the Arab Spring. Then, Qadafi used European arms against people fighting for democracy. After Qadafi fell, the EU continued to sell arms to Libya: almost $30 million of arms since then.

But EU countries are not the only countries to do this. Lots of countries export many different weapons to oppressive governments. But Europe has a very important global influence. They should use this influence to promote freedom and democracy. Not to support dictatorships and people who abuse human rights.

There was some success in January after an international campaign supported by Campaign Against Arms Trade. DAPA (the South Korean export agency) agreed to cancel the sale of 1.6 million gas canisters to Bahrain. This is an important step - Europe should follow this. EU countries should not support dictators. They should lead the way and call for an immediate end to arms exports to all countries that abuse human rights.

The Arab Spring should have made Europe think again about how it does business with these countries, but there has not been much change. In its recent report, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said: ‘All sides in Bahrain (the government and the opposition) understand the UK defence sales as British support for the government’. This statement gives two very good reasons to fight to stop EU countries selling in the global arms trade.

This year we will have a European Parliamentary election. Human rights must be central to the debate about Europe’s future. Campaigners say that all MEPs and candidates must show their commitment to peace, security and human rights. And they must make sure the European Parliament discusses the arms trade and the House of Commons report. We cannot allow European governments to continue to sell arms. Their foreign policies have many contradictions and are hypocritical (they say one thing, but they do another). The profits of the arms companies are often more important than the human rights of people. This must change.

Andrew Smith speaks for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at

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