Spain’s economy is in dire straits with its EU imposed dependence on tourism and the production of cars for German companies, thus turning to the arms trade.
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
Edited by Miquel Strubell
Article publicat en catalan aquí
Spain’s “progressive” bombs for Saudis
According to the SIPRI1, Spain is now seventh in the world ranking of arms exporting countries for the period 2016-2020, coming behind the world’s major military powers: USA, Russia, France, Germany, China and the UK. Spain’s arms exports soared by almost 300% between 2010 and 2019, in stark contrast to the crisis in other sectors of the Spanish economy. Today, without having completed a year and a half in power, the PSOE-Unidas Podemos government’s commitment to this sector is as unflinching as it is unashamed. Thus, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, the consolidated budget of the Ministry of Defence for this year (which includes autonomous bodies, the National Intelligence and Transfer Centre) is set to grow by 664 million, 6.5% compared to 2020, and to reach the figure of €10,863 million, which rises to 10.3% of the budget if we take into account other military items farmed out to other ministries.
The most disturbing thing about this budget increase is the proportion dedicated to the famous PEAs, the old Special Weapons Programs, now conveniently renamed to conceal their true nature (as we reported in: https://braveneweurope.com/toni-strubell-nuria-bassa-spain-bottom-of-the-the-eu-ranking-on-covid-social-spending). It has now become quite clear that, not only are there to be no changes in Spain’s arms exportation policy as compared to previous Conservative governments, but that there may even be steps taken in the wrong direction with regard to the position of the Socialists when in opposition. Clearly, this government not only supports the military industry boosted by former PP Defence ministers Morenés and De Cospedal, but also strengthens it further by effectively maintaining two controversial arms sales customers: Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, for the Spanish government, it is as if there had been no protests and critical reports made in different EU countries by prestigious NGOs in recent years to denounce arms exports that aid Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen. It is therefore curious that countries with more conservative governments than Spain, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, have chosen not to export weapons to Saudi Arabia while “progressive” Spain continues to do so. But there are no prizes for guessing that former monarch Juan Carlos I’s long-standing partnership with Saudi leaders (especially regarding commissions know to have been earned in the contracts for the Medina-Mecca high-speed train) have had a lot to do with this. Many have even put down a discrete reduction in sales to a need to ward off any eventual (and unlikely) prosecution for complicity in the commission of crimes under international law in Yemen. This decrease has been seen to have been compensated for by a strategic transfer of sales from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region that also partake of that war.
Spain’s back turned to arms sales reduction
In the mid-1990s, several NGOs – including Amnesty International – launched a campaign in favour of a legally binding international agreement establishing rules and criteria for controlling the arms trade, based on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Although the International Arms Trade Treaty came into force in 2014, Spain’s position regarding this Treaty today remains evasive. Despite the fact that the treaty obliges governments to ensure that their arms exports are not used to commit human rights abuses and to prevent arms transfers to countries where there are socio-political tensions linked to human rights violations, various EU countries, including Spain, have not placed any effective obstacles to accelerating arms exports to Asia and the Middle East, two areas of the planet that are suffering the arms race. Both Europe and Spain have shown a growing trend in their arms exports, both in volume and economic terms, to target countries.
Spain’s cynical attitude in the Yemen war
Yemen is arguably the hottest spot in the world arms race today. According to the Catalan newspaper ARA, the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights has collected evidence of 177 air strikes since 2015 in part made by planes that have been built by the Spanish aircraft industry. In this regard, Mwatana, along with other NGOs, has recently filed a complaint against Spain and other countries for complicity in war crimes before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They demand a full investigation into exports of military aircraft and spare parts manufactured in Spain and sold in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt since 2015. Although the Spanish government insists on declining responsibility here, there is no guarantee that five naval frigates that Spain is producing for Saudi Arabia in Cadiz will not end up being used in the maritime blockade against Yemen that is costing so many civilian lives. While other European countries have reduced contracts with Saudi Arabia, we already know that Spain will maintain the contract for the sale of 400 smart bombs to the Riyadh regime as well as that of the frigates, despite having announced before that the bombs would not be sent. Riyad’s threat to cancel the ship order soon made Madrid rectify most unblushingly.
Indeed, the cynicism shown by the Sánchez administration in this whole affair is anthological. In a statement made recently to the ARA newspaper, a representative of the Spanish government went so far as to state that “if I had knowledge or there was a risk of misuse of the exported materials [to Saudi Arabia] I would apply the law and suspend or revoke export authorizations”. Really? It is clear that the Sánchez government has lost no sleep ignoring the proven existence of Spanish weapons (according to Yemeni NGOs) in the hands of the Saudis, weapons that have doubtless contributed to trigger what the UN has described as one of the worst health crises in the world, with 1.3 million severely malnourished children and a severe shortage of medicines of all kinds for the civil population. The Madrid authorities take refuge in an opaque “end-use certificate” that Saudi Arabia is said to have signed to guarantee that those weapons would not be used in the Yemen war. Who can believe this, given Saudi background in this field and Madrid’s insistence on plugging for the arms industry? As one representative of the NGO Mwatana for Human Rights put it, “whoever sells weapons in Riyadh knows that he is collaborating with its crimes.”
The particular situation in Spain, with the so-called “most progressive government in history” made up of Podemos and “Socialists” (forgive us the quotes, but using this word to describe the PSOE is political sacrilege), makes things even more perverse. In negotiating the government composition, the Socialists predictably reserved themselves all the key “Deep State” ministries (Interior, Defence, Economy) leaving the secondary ones in the hands of Unidas Podemos. Although Podemos insisted on introducing a mechanism to ensure war material inspection and monitoring on its subsequent use, no conclusive steps have been taken in this direction in the last year. The opacity remains impenetrable. As denounced by anti-militarist NGOs, nothing has changed with respect to the PP’s handling of things. A hope-raising 2020 decree, 494/2020, to control the use of the material has not been applied, nor does it offer any real guarantees if it ever is introduced. The PSOE has not hesitated one second in prioritizing the economic factor in arms sales over any other humanitarian consideration.
The truth is that to do so, the government hides in the secrecy that traditionally accompanies the arms and military sector in Spain. Despite being the 7th largest arms exporter in the world, Spain is far from adopting the final security protocols that already exist in other arm-dealing countries (often with governments far to the right of Spain’s, such as the United States, Switzerland or Germany). And despite a Spanish government official announcement that there was “no element that has more weight than the protection of human rights” in the arms trade, who can believe it now? Nevertheless, it is only fair to recognise that there has been seen to be some tension in the government over this issue, as witnessed when the newly appointed Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, claimed before Defence Minister Margarita Robles, that Spain was not a “full democracy” if it sold arms to Arab countries. To which Robles replied, not without reason, that there was no veto on the part of the EU to the sale of arms to Arab countries. Only a mealy-mouthed “recommendation”.
However, there are powerful reasons to explain why the current Spanish arms export sector is so undisguisedly active. First and foremost must surely be the EU’s effective tolerance towards these activities (so far there have only been effective restriction on arms sales to Turkey in the context of the Syrian War). A second reason would be NATO’s insistence on its members’ commitment to the arms industry and increased defence budgets. A third reason is the wall of opacity this sector is offered by the current Spanish legal framework. Franco’s 1968 law of official secrets allows for the total classification of the arms trade for reasons of State defence. Who further reinforced this legal opacity – oh surprise! – was Socialist leader Felipe González, who in 1987 ruled as state secrets all documents produced by the all-important Interministerial Board for Trade and Control of Defence Material and Technologies. Given this background, who can doubt that one day the Spanish “Socialists” will have to justify to the rest of the world their growing involvement in the sinister international arms racket? Who knows if it may also lead them before the international courts one day?
1 The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.