France arms sales to Middle East double, fueling region's conflicts

France arms sales to Middle East double, fueling region's conflicts
Macron has faced pressure to scale back weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies conducting a bloody war in Yemen.
3 min read
04 July, 2018
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron [Getty]
French arms sales to the Middle East doubled in 2017, despite pressure mounting on President Emmanuel Macron to scale back weapon deals with Saudi Arabia and its allies conducting a bloody war in Yemen.

The leader has faced criticism from lawmakers and rights groups for selling arms that are being used in the conflict in Yemen, where more than 10,000 people have died since a Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE, intervened in March 2015. 

The government's annual report on weapons sales, due to be released on Wednesday, shows that France's total arms sales halved to 7 billion euros in 2017, Reuters reported.

However, about 60 percent of sales went to the Middle East, with arms exports to the region worth 3.92 billion euros compared to 1.94 billion euros a year earlier.

France's biggest defence firms, including Dassault and Thales, have major contracts with the region, including the sales of naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"It is not for France to conclude piecemeal transactions depending on market opportunities. The goal is to create a strong link with the importing states," the report said.

"France's arms exports meet the legitimate needs of states."

Unlike in many other Western countries, no parliamentary approval is required for arms sales in France. Only a committee headed by the prime minister and a handful of other cabinet officials must agree to any sales. 

Once approved, the details are rarely reviewed or made public. 

France is now the third largest arms exporter in the world behind the United States and Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Some of France's European allies, including Germany, have curtailed links with the Saudi-led military coalition, though France, Britain and the United States have not followed suit, despite pressure from rights groups.

In May, Droit Solidarite, a legal NGO, and Aser, which specialises in armament issues, presented a legal challenge to the Conseil d'Etat in Paris, arguing that France is violating national and international law by selling arms to countries bombing Yemen.

Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll found earlier this year.

Paris has sought to increase its diplomatic weight in the Middle East, earlier this year hosting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and before that wading into the regional crisis following Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation on live television from Riyadh.

On Monday, four NGOs, including the International Federation for Human Rights, accused the French state and several French companies of tacitly participating in an Egyptian government crackdown on opposition groups over the past five years.

The report cited, among other things, the sale of "personal surveillance, mass interception, personal data collection and crowd control (...) technologies that have led to the arrest of tens of thousands of opponents or militants".