Why would any country sell weapons to a regime that saws its critics into pieces and spreads terrorist ideology around the world?
This contribution was published on The Hill Times on April 15, 2020
OTTAWA, CANADA — The arms business is an important one. Countries around the world sell weapons to each other to the annual tune of $95 billion (2017 figures from the Swedish SIPRI), while the globe’s top 100 arms manufacturers made close to $400 billion in sales that same year (I assume this is a larger number because of domestic sales).
Some customers are ‘legitimate’ armed forces/police services. Others are less savoury. And then there is the illegal arms trade. According to the US Federation of American Scientists (FAS) “illicit arms trafficking fuels civil wars, contributes to sky-rocketing crime rates and feeds the arsenals of the world’s worst terrorists.”
Which brings me to Saudi Arabia. The desert kingdom has led the world in arms purchases of late, again according to SIPRI. The only country named after a dynasty in the modern world has garnered attention and fawning praise for decades thanks to its oil wealth. Hence everyone wants to make a deal with it.
But the Kingdom has a darker side, especially today under the influence of Muhammad bin Salman, or MBS as he is usually called, the son of the current king and has now ensconced himself as Crown Prince. Despite an optimistic debut in which he pledged to open up the country and push back on the austere practices of Wahhabi Islamic clerics, MBS has done an about face. Among his more notable ‘achievements’ are:
- a continued export of hateful Wahhabist-tinged Islam around the world;
- the incarceration of anyone who disagrees with him, including senior members of the Al Sa’ud family;
- the humanitarian disaster resulting from its war in Yemen, and, most critically;
- the torture, killing and dismemberment (via a bone saw) of Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi-American journalist who had gotten under his skin (MBS denies giving the order and has blamed ‘rogue elements’ but everyone knows it was his deed).
So what does Canada do with such a country? It sells it arms of course! The Canadian government is lifting a moratorium on approving new permits for military exports to Saudi Arabia after renegotiating some terms of a controversial $14-billion deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Riyadh. These include the light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) made by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., under a long-term contract brokered by the Canadian government.
After the brutal slaughter of Mr. Kashoggi the Trudeau Liberals had suspended all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. So why the change? Is the Kingdom playing nicer? No, and all we got from our government was an anodyne statement that Saudi Arabia is not using the arms to violate human rights.
Huh? See points 1-4 above.
The more likely reason is the fact that the government of Canada would have been on the hook for $14 billion if the deal had remained unfinished. That and the jobs it will create at the plant in London. But let’s not pretend that anything has really changed in Saudi Arabia since the original decision in 2018 to suspend the export of the LAVs.
Saudi Arabia has been the major ideological contributor to global Islamist extremism for decades. Some believe the country will change its ways once MBS sits on the throne. Don’t count me among that lot. This deal is repugnant and decent Canadians should say so.
It is simple: Saudi Arabia is a neither an ally nor a like-minded nation as far as Canada is concerned. Yes, it is an important regional player and has for years successfully convinced the world that we all need it in light of the Iranian bogeyman across the Persian Gulf from the Kingdom. Canada’s move is naked realpolitik in essence so can we stop pretending that this deal is moral?
Saudi Arabia has been THE major ideological contributor to global Islamist extremism for decades. Some believe the country will change its ways once MBS sits on the throne. Don’t count me among that lot. This deal is repugnant and decent Canadians should say so.
Phil Gurski is the President of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting and the author of five books on terrorism since 2015.