Which country has the most to lose in suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

Which country has the most to lose in suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
By Emma Beswick
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Germany has committed to an arms freeze on exports to Saudi Arabia, while other countries are keeping a low profile on the subject — what action have different EU countries taken and who stands to lose the most`?


In the wake of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate, there have been calls for EU governments to stop selling arms to the Middle Eastern country.

Germany has committed to an arms freeze, while other countries are keeping a low profile on the subject — what action have different EU countries taken and who stands to lose the most`?

Who has the most to lose?

When considering the value of licences issued by EU countries, based on the most recent data available from the European Union (for 2016), France topped the table concerning exports to Saudi Arabia.

This is a change compared to previous data (for 2013) in which the UK came first in terms of exports to the country.

Germany, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria all made sales of over €100 million to Saudi Arabia, according to the value of licences issued in 2016.

The below data includes the licences for the sale of items to Saudi Arabia that the Common Position does not have a real mechanism to stop, like specialised equipment for military training and ammunition.

What are the positions of different EU governments?

Germany expressed the intention of stopping exports, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel making the announcement to reporters in Berlin on Sunday.

“I agree with all those who say when it comes to our already limited arms exports (to Saudi Arabia) that they cannot take place in the current situation,” Merkel said, according to AFP.

France's president Emmanuel Macron last Friday sought to downplay the importance of relations with Riyadh, saying the kingdom was not a major client of France.

However, Saudi Arabia is France’s largest market in the Middle East, even without arms sales. French exports to the Gulf nation totalled almost €4 billion ($4.61 billion) between September 2017 to August 2018, according to economy ministry data.

Macron said France has suspended some political visits to Saudi Arabia, like Germany, the UK and the Netherlands as he awaited “clarifications” on Khashoggi's death, but is yet to announce a suspension of arms exports.

Previously the top exporter of arms to Saudi Arabia, the UK government has faced mounting pressure over their sales to the Middle Eastern country in previous years.

Despite issuing a joint statement with France and Germany on Sunday condemning the killing of journalists as unacceptable, the UK has not announced an arms freeze.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a "terrible case" but that Britain would not "overreact" and was “not throwing our hands in the air” because thousands of jobs depended on relations with the country.

Spain will similarly not be suspending exports to Saudi Arabia for the moment, despite expressing "consternation" over Khashoggi’s death.

Saudi Arabia was Spain’s third-best weapons customer in the 2013-2017 period, according to El Pais newspaper.

Back in September, Defence Minister Margarita Robles attempted to halt the sale of 400 guided missiles over concerns about their potential use in the Yemen War.

Yet the prime minister demanded that the transaction go ahead after Riyadh threatened to retaliate by ending a €1.8-billion contract with Spain. Workers also took to the streets in protest demanding their jobs be defended.

What is the position of the US government?

Donald Trump's response to Khashoggi's death comes in stark contrast to the likes of Germany — shortly after news of the journalist's death, the US president said he did not want to ruin a "tremendous order" of weapons from Saudi Arabia, and that "some form of sanction" would be preferable.


Trump has heralded Saudi Arabia's purchase of $110 billion worth of US arms in 2017, although experts claimed this figure was inflated and some parts of the deal appear to still be up in the air.

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