September 21, 2021


Why France Is Getting No Sympathy for Its Lost Sub Deal: Its European neighbors have long bristled at Paris' self-dealing and aggressive sales tactics. (Elisabeth Braw, SEPTEMBER 21, 2021, Defense One)

One day after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, President Emanuel Macron of France and his top ministers received a classified intelligence briefing documenting how Saudi Arabia was using French weapons in Yemen. Six months later, with Germany and other European countries having stopped selling arms to the Saudis, Macron dismissed as "populist" calls for France to do the same. 

"What's the link between arms sales and Mr. Khashoggi's murder? I understand the connection with what's happening in Yemen, but there is no link with Mr. Khashoggi," the president said. "That's pure demagoguery to say, 'We must stop arms sales.' It's got nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi."

More than 130,000 Yemenis have already been killed in that country's ongoing civil war, and more than 16 million don't have enough to eat. But ordinary Yemenis' suffering at the hands of the Saudi coalition and the Houthi fighters hasn't ended French arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In 2018, French arms exports grew by 50 percent; they included a one-billion Euro sale to Saudi Arabia of patrol boats and other equipment. As Reuters noted, one of the tactics used by Yemen's Saudi-led coalition is to block ports controlled by the rival Houthis. 

And last year, when French arms exports slumped dramatically, sales to Saudi Arabia helped keep the French defense industry afloat. The Gulf kingdom bought 704 million Euros' worth of French arms, more than any other country. And despite last year's slump, French arms sales rose 44 percent from 2016 and 2020, outperforming all the other top-five arms exporters.

Most countries with significant defense industries rely on exports to keep them going. But France goes about securing exports in an extremely energetic manner that involves not just defense industry executives but politicians all the way up to the President of the Republic. Indeed, even for French arms-makers that are not owned or part-owned by the government, French politicians act as salesmen to other countries and don't mind outflanking other countries' companies in the process. To be sure, U.S. and many other countries' ministers and officials, too, ply their countries' deadly wares to other leaders. Few, though, do so as energetically as France. 

And France, which considers itself a global actor, clearly feels that status justifies unfriendly negotiation tactics at the expense of allied countries. "Arms exports are the business model of our sovereignty," Defense Minister Florence Parly noted in 2018. 

Posted by at September 21, 2021 4:38 PM