Europe’s complicity in the catastrophe in Yemen

The war in Yemen has led to the worst humanitarian catastrophe today. Twenty-four million people, 80 percent of the population, need some sort of humanitarian aid. Almost 250,000 people have lost their lives through the violence in a conflict that has lasted 6 years and where all forms of atrocities and war crimes have been committed, child-soldiers recruited, a torrent of 4 million people displaced, international humanitarian law violated, and Middle Eastern geostrategic rivalries—particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran—have been exacerbated further still.

At this stage of the war, with none of the factions able to prevail militarily, it seems clear that peace will only come through political dialogue. However, it would also help peace if EU member states stopped fuelling the conflict by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the country leading the international coalition that has been fighting the Houthi rebels. Weapons with which atrocities have been committed against the civilian population—and perhaps some of the constitutive acts of war crimes denounced by a group of United Nations experts. Because the fact is that, despite the—legally binding—common European position on arms export control banning the sale of weapons to countries at war, several European states have been selling huge quantities of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Among these states, Spain stands out ranking among the top three, along with France and the United Kingdom.

Between 2015 and 2019, Spain exported arms to Saudi Arabia worth over €1.2 billion and authorized exports valued at about €1.7 billion. In the same period, arms worth about €300 million were exported to the United Arab Emirates, with authorized exports valued at just over €400 million. According to the latest official data published last December, during the first half of 2020 the Spanish Government granted 16 authorizations for the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia worth almost €100 million, while exports amounted to €32 million. It is more than plausible that some of these weapons were used in the war in Yemen.

Lately, however, some Western countries have begun to make a move. US President Biden, in his first major foreign policy decision, announced the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia—73% of weapons imported by the Saudi kingdom—and a diplomatic offensive aiming to achieve ceasefire and peace. Italy has suspended its arms deals with the Saudi regime, and Germany has similarly followed suit. And what has Spain done? Far from reconsidering its policy—the government says it has recorded the sale of weapons it considers “lethal”—Spain is still trying to make arms deals with the Saudi regime, as reported by newspaper Público. As is widely recognized, Saudi Arabia has a deplorable human rights record, but it seems that the “most progressive government in history”—as qualified by members of Spain’s own Gobierno—has no qualms about warranting the future of a thriving military industry, even if it means contracts with countries at war, countries committing atrocities against civilians, discriminating women and minorities, persecuting dissent, and repressing rights and freedoms.

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