Flemish arms exports to the Middle East continue

Every spring, the Flemish Peace Institute publishes an annual report with figures, analyses and interpretation of developments in Flemish foreign arms trade. The edition concerning Flemish arms trade in 2011 was presented on 23 May 2012 in the Flemish Parliament. (factsheet)

Flemish arms exports have decreased by a third

In 2011, the Flemish authorities issued 308 arms export licences with a combined value of EUR 200.9 million. This signifies a 37% decrease as compared to 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, the value of licensed arms exports doubled (from EUR 155.5 million to EUR 320.5 million). The Flemish defence-related industry – which focuses on the European market – appears to be feeling the pinch of the economic crisis and cutbacks on defence spending that go along with it.

Flemish arms exports are destined for countries around the world, but mainly for the defence-related industry in Europe (45%) and the United States (31%). As a recipient region, Asia accounts for 18% of licensed arms exports from Flanders.

Arms exports to the Middle East and the Maghreb countries continue

In February 2011, a resolution was adopted by the Flemish Parliament in which the Flemish authorities were asked to treat arms exports to the Middle East and Maghreb countries with the utmost caution. In response, the Flemish authorities announced a suspension of all licences to a variable number of countries in the region (currently Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia).

In the period 2007-2011, the Flemish authorities issued 76 million euros worth of licences with a last reported user in the Middle East or the Maghreb region. In 2011 as well, the Flemish authorities licensed exports of EUR 15.5 million of military equipment to the region, including components for drones to the United Arab Emirates and visualisation screens to Saudi Arabia. In addition, in two-thirds of all cases, the last known user of overall Flemish arms exports is foreign industry, without the real end-user being known when the licence is issued. It is not known how much Flemish military equipment ends up in the Middle East via foreign industry.

Peace Institute requests preventative action

Recent conflicts in the Arab world have demonstrated that violence is not only committed with new equipment, but also often with goods that have been present in a certain region for a longer time. "It is for this reason that we not only have to be extra cautious with exports and transits to countries where a conflict is already going on, but also to take preventative action," says Tomas Baum, Director of the Flemish Peace Institute. Specifically, this is possible by lending more weight to existing European criteria concerning human rights, internal conflict and regional stability when licence applications are submitted. "Furthermore," according to Baum, "the Flemish authorities must more clearly inform parliament about the way in which it is monitoring the situation in the Middle East and North Africa and which assessments it makes."

Imports of firearms double

Licences were also issued in 2011 for imports (EUR 18.3 million) and transits (EUR 85.2 million) of arms and military equipment. The Flemish Peace Institute notes in particular that the licensed imports of firearms in Flanders have doubled as compared to 2010, reaching EUR 2.1 million.

Read a factsheet on the Flemish foreign arms trade in 2011

Read the full report (In Dutch, English version will be available in July)

Read more on the Arms Trade & Arms Production Research Programme