Archive for category arms trade
The new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is set to rubber stamp the continuing sale of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles to the despotic monarch of Saudi Arabia, violating Canada’s own arms export rules and straining the Prime Minister’s ‘liberal’ credibility. The outgoing Conservative government of Canada agreed in 2014 to sell an unspecified number of LAV III mini-tanks to the king of Saudi Arabia in a deal worth $15 billion over several years. They will be built by General Dynamics Canada, Land Systems Division. The deal was supported and actively promoted by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown corporation, that uses government funds and credit to support external trade, including arms deals.
The deal came after extensive lobbying by the Conservative government, including (then) Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, and support from members of at least one of Canada’s right-wing military think tanks. Wikileaks published documents in June 2015 that showed how members of the Conservative cabinet lobbied the Saudi regime.
Violation of Canadian Laws
Rules for the export of arms from Canada require that the weapons will not be used against civilian populations. Saudi troops have used similar LAVs against their own citizens on many occasions, and in 2011 notoriously invaded Bahrain at the request of the Bahrain dictatorship to put down (largely Shia) democracy protesters. Given the past history of Canadian arms sales to Bahrain, it is probable that earlier Canadian LAVs were used against democracy protests. Project Ploughshares has pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development will not even let Canadians know how the arms export permit system works, hiding behind the veil of ‘commercial confidentiality’.
The Vancouver Sun reported that the LAVs would not be for the state army of Saudi Arabia, but for the ‘SANG’ the personal army of the Saudi despot, who maintains a force four times the size of the state army. They reported
“According to reports in a variety of specialist military publications — including Jane’s — the SANG comprises Bedouin tribesmen and Wahhabi religious zealots whose prime task is to protect King Abdullah and the royal family from domestic opponents”.
The government has provided little information about the contract, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’. The government has refused to say whether the LAV’s will be armed as they leave Canada. They don’t provide information about who might have been paid to broker aspects of the deal. The government refuses to say whether the Saudis have provided assurances that the mini-tanks won’t be used against their own people. It refuses to say how many LAV IIIs will be sold to the Saudis.
The Conservative government, defeated in October, regularly tried to deceive the public about the true nature of the deal. Stephen Harper, when questioned about the deal, denied that the LAV’s were arms, calling them ‘transport vehicles’, obfuscating the reality that the LAVs are armed small tanks often used in aggressive attacks on both civilian and military adversaries.
The arms sale can’t be understood without examining the convoluted strategic context of the Canadian Conservative Party. Saudi Arabia is bulwark of the conservative ‘Sunni-sphere’, and thus the main local adversary of Iran. Iranian relations with Canada have been poor, but the main driver of events has been Canada’s solid support for Israel in its relentless campaign against Iran. Any foe of Iran is a friend of Canada, in this view, and supportive of the Israeli regime. Support for the Israeli strategic plan was enough incentive for the Conservatives to allow Canada’s own rules to be violated, and to maintain a high level of secrecy.
Despite clear violations of Canada’s best interests and international human rights, Canada’s opposition parties have been tepid in their opposition to this deal. While the New Democrats spoke out against it, they were pressured by the union Unifor to protect jobs by dropping their opposition. New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair maintained his opposition to the deal but said he would not stop an ongoing commercial transaction, thereby making his opposition irrelevant. He said that under a New Democrat government there would be more ‘transparency’.
Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also against the deal while speaking in Parliament, but is expected to provide no opposition to it while in power. In the lead up to the election he minimised the LAVs as ‘jeeps’, claimed that the deal was between the Saudi and a private commercial company, dodging the involvement of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and the responsibility of the Canadian government to respect its own laws on military exports.
Decide for yourself. Are they ‘jeeps’, or ‘tanks’?
(Last link added, somewhat unfairly, after the fair comment below).
Israeli arms companies are quick to point out their close association with the Israeli military, and the fact that many of their key development staff are active members of the military. Since much of the effort of the military has been the occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, and the blockade and attacks on Gaza, it follows that many of these staff have been integrally involved in the brutal occupation of the West Bank, and many of Israel’s incursions into Gaza and Lebanon.
Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest drones manufacturer and the world’s largest drone exporter. Elbit’s Chief Financial Officer, Joseph Gasper, was recently interviewed by Financial Times, claiming that Elbit’s employees with active involvement in the Israeli military gave it “quick feedback” on whether those systems were working and whether they needed addressing. Elbit is a part of the Israeli military, and the Israeli occupation is a testing ground and feedback mechanism for the development arm of the Israeli arms industry.
In a country where military, government, and arms company roles are a virtual revolving door, it is not hard to imagine that there are strong finanical incentives to suggest military solutions to political problems. Elbit Systems not only profits from sales to the Israeli military and occupation forces, it uses the “combat proven” experience it gains from attacks on Gaza dn the surveillance of the West Bank to promote arms sales worldwide.
The long delayed Watchkeeper surveillance drone programme has been barely in the news for months, even as deadlines were missed, and the UK military operations in Afghanistan wind down. But news this week may put it in the spotlight again.
There is a joint summit between Francois Hollande and David Cameron this week at RAF Brize Norton this week.
This is ostensibly to restart the joint defense treaty/arms trade strategy that the two countries negotiated in 2010, which ploughed into quicksand when the Parti Socialiste won the French elections in 2012 and promptly reviewed the arms procurement arrangements made by the Sarkozy government.
Writing in Defense News, Andrew Chuter and Pierre Tran have speculated that the conversation could involve a statement of French interest in the British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone.
Thales, the French arms company, is the prime contractor and partner with Elbit Systems of Israel in the Watchkeeper programme, which has belatedly resulted in a British built drone based on the Israeli Hermes 450. Thales fortunes appeared to rise after the election of the Socialistes, while its rival Dassault appeared to fall.
Thales has been lobbying hard to have the French government buy the Watchkeeper drone, and French operators have flown the drone at Parc Aberporth in Wales. It is also believed that they may fly the drone this summer in Canada, possibly at the UK training base at Suffield Aberta.
Also discussed at the summit may be a proposal to build an armed combat drone, in which France’s Dassault and Britain’s BAE might build the airframe, Thales and Silex the electronics, Rolls Royce and Snecma the engine, according the Chuter and Tran. Proponents want the programme to begin immediately, ostensibly so that the French air force that evaluate how an armed drone would fit into ‘the operational picture’. Though why they couldn’t just use a Predator drone acquired from the US for that purpose isn’t clear.
British gun maker Manroy has announced a new expansion costing £750,000 to enable it to make rifles to fill an order from an unnamed ‘existing customer’. According to the Scotsman, almost half of this expansion would be funded from an existing shareholder, Caledonian Holdings, in the form of a loan. The loan would be paid back by year end from the sale of weapons. Apparently the expansion and manufacture will take place at a facility at Slade Green, Kent, rather than the Manroy facility at Beckley, East Sussex.
The company does not publicly identify its customers, (other than UK MOD) and British law appears to permit it to maintain secrecy, even though the sale of weapons has serious public policy implications for Britain. Manroy attempted to sell military hardware to the Qadaffi regime in Libya, until the Arab Spring caused the UK government to withdraw support from the Libyan dictator, who was subsequently deposed and assassinated.
Manroy states that it only sells weapons to countries approved by the UK government, but its growth strategy was hurt by the Arab Spring, which caused the UK government to shorten the list of Middle Eastern and African countries to which it would approve arms exports.
The owners of Manroy have been seeking a buyer for the company. It appears that only talks with Belgian company Herstal remain active.
The owners of Sussex based arms company Manroy Engineering have apparently put the company up for sale. Manroy Engineering is the Beckley, East Sussex manufacturer of heavy machine guns and other military equipment. Manley was formerly a small engineering company that made heavy .50 calibre machine guns for the UK military. But a few years ago the company was purchased by new owners who had plans for expansion. This coincided with the policy of the new Conservative government that wanted to increase arms sales and was willing to expand its export permit system to authoritarian countries previously embargoed. This policy ran full tilt into the Arab Spring and the British public became aware that many of the intended new markets for UK arms were indeed repressive dictators. The plan to sell arms to dictators was scaled back. No doubt this revised policy also affected the growth plans of the new owners of Manroy.
Manroy was directly affected when it was revealed that Manroy and elements of the UK government had been trying to sell sniper rifles to the Qaddafi government at the time just before the dictator was deposed by his own people with the help of other elements of the UK government.
Press reports suggest that Manroy is considering takeover proposals from two companies, (US Ordnance having dropped out). Market reports suggest that the 14 million pound company hasn’t been very profitable, with losses most years since it was taken public.
Baretta is one of the named suitors. The Italian company is a major producer of small arms.
FN Herstal is the other. (Watch their bloodless machine gun video here) Herstal is Europe’s largest exporter of military arms, and owner of such American firearms brands as Winchester and Browning. Herstal already makes a heavy machine gun similar to the one made by Manroy. FN Herstal is 100% owned by the Walloon region of the Belgian government.
It isn’t clear whether a purchaser would keep the manufacturing facilities at Beckley, or whether they would be only interested in the machinery or intellectual property of the company. None of this information appears to be in the public record.
In line with its Conservative cousins in the UK, Canada’s government has moved to increase arms sales by removing some restrictions on exports. Diane Finley, the Minister of Public Works tasked with managing a review of the items that can be exported, announced recently that more than half the items would be taken off the list. (In other words, items deemed too dangerous to export in 2002, are now considered safe). In keeping with this governments habit of secrecy, the review was announced with little fanfare.
According to Finley’s statement, reported by Lee Berthiaume in the Ottawa citizen, the purpose of the review was to align Canada’s policies with that of the US.
Arms sold by Canada to the Saudi dictatorship were recently used to suppress democracy demonstrations in nearby Bahrain. Bahrain is home of the US Fifth Fleet, and the US has been reluctant to support democratic movements which could destabilise the ruling dictators who gave them permission to be there. Likewise Canada’s foreign affairs Minister John Baird has given support to the Bahrain dictators, over democracy protesters.
Lee Berthiaume reported that Canada would like to widen exports to countries like Chile, Peru, South Korea and Brazil. (Brazil may not be so keen after recent allegations of Canadian industrial spying). Whether the list will be expanded to a longer list of autocratic countries isn’t clear. But if the government is willing to export arms to the Saudi dictatorship, one assumes that our government will have few limitations on who it sells to.
When the UK Conservative government greatly expanded the list of export targets, they were quickly stung by the Arab Spring, which revealed them in numerous arms trade transactions with Colonel Qadaffi of Libya.
General Atomics, the maker of Predator and Reaper drones has formed an alliance with CAE, the Canadian supplier of training and simulation technology to consider integration of CAE training and simulation into General Atomics products world wide. The companies were already teamed to try to sell General Atomics drones to the Canadian military under Project JUSTAS. CAE touted the alliance as providing future Canadian jobs, and the alliance obviously is poised to offer manufacturing offsets to sweeten any potential deal to between Canada and General Atomics to buy drones.
Deliberations on the purchase of military drones continue under the radar of the Canadian public, which soon may be faced with a Cabinet decision to buy either a General Atomics drone, or one from either of the leading Israeli drone companies. Either way the most likely drone choices have a bloody history in the suppression of Palestinian independence, or in the conflict zones of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.
CAE’s Group President, Military Simulation Products, Training and Services is Gene Colabatistto, a former US marine major with long history in security and space organisations.