Monday, 14 June, 2021

Khashoggi affair: should France stop its arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the cessation of arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. Could France follow suit?

A Caesar canon

Should we stop arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia? Despite the bloody conflict in Yemen, it was for a long time the forbidden debate. After the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the question is now on everyone’s mind. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has brought water to the mill of supporters of a strong decision by announcing the end of arms sales in Riyadh. “I agree with all those who say that arms exports cannot intervene in the situation in which we find ourselves, even if these sales are of limited scale,” she declared on October 21, assuring that “there are still things that urgently need to be clarified” by the Saudi authorities. French diplomacy, for the moment, has remained very – too? – measured: the Quai d’Orsay was content to ask for “an exhaustive investigation” into the death of Jamal Khashoggi, and the Minister of the Economy Bruno The Mayor canceled his participation in the economic summit in Riyadh, scheduled for October 23-25.

Riyadh overtaken by India

Could Paris move up a gear, and stop arms sales in Riyadh? This is clearly the main lever for French action. Of course, French arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been in free fall for several years. Over the period 2008-2017, Riyadh was overtaken by India as the leading customer for French armaments. The last major Saudi contracts date from 2013-2014, with the modernization of the Sawari 1 frigates (LEX contract, 1 billion euros) and the so-called Donas contract of more than 2.4 billion euros. This order, financed by Riyadh but initially intended for Lebanon, was taken over by Saudi Arabia for the benefit of its own forces, under the name SFMC (Saudi French Military Contract). Since then, it is the desert for French industry: the Mark 3 air defense contract, Thales Crotale NG missiles, is now dead and buried. As for the Saudi Navy fleet in the Red Sea, long the preserve of French industrialists, it is now widely contested, in particular by the Spanish Navantia.

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