The U.K., Saudi Arabia’s second-largest arms provider, signed multiple arms deals with the kingdom worth more than £13 billion ($16.6 billion) between 2015 and 2017. The U.K. also signed a number of other agreements pertaining to education, training, culture, entertainment, healthcare, renewable energy, financial services, and investment during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to London in March 2018, that are expected to result in investments totaling “$100 billion over the duration of 10 years,” according to the Saudi Press Agency.
The European Union also annually exports billions of dollars of weapons and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which have fiercely competed to become Europe’s top arms importers in recent years. However, some European countries, such as Germany, have been inconsistent in their public positions on the exportation of arms to conflict zones.
In April 2014, Germany refused to supply 800 tanks, worth €18 billion ($20.4 billion), to Riyadh because of the kingdom’s human rights abuses. Yet, in 2016, Berlin agreed to deliver 48 patrol boats to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman at the height of the coalition airstrikes in Yemen. Germany approved “the sale of trucks and patrol boats worth some 150 million euros” to Saudi Arabia in the last quarter of 2017 alone, according to DW.
At the beginning of 2018, the German government announced that it would stop exporting arms to countries participating in the conflict in Yemen, after repeated calls from the international community to do so. Just months later, in September 2018, Berlin reversed this agreement and agreed to sign arms deals with various Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt.
Earlier this year, Norway also suspended its arms and ammunition exports to the UAE over concerns that they would be used in the conflict in Yemen. Data from Statistics Norway shows that, in 2016, “Norwegian exports of weapons and ammunition to the UAE rose to 79 million Norwegian Krone (approximately $9 million) from 41 million in 2015,” according to Reuters.
Even Russia’s position regarding the conflict in Yemen has fluctuated over the years. While Moscow initially seemed to be supporting both the Houthi rebels and President Ali Saleh’s forces during the 2014 coup in Sanaa, it has become increasingly occupied by the conflict in Syria. In the past, Russia’s political positions in the region have been closely aligned with those of Iran, which supports the Houthis. However, Russian alignment has also changed.
Recently, Moscow’s position regarding the conflict in Yemen has largely fallen in line with the positions of the West—specifically the U.S. and Britain. Russia’s change of heart may be driven by two motives. First, it seeks to exchange a secondary role in the Yemeni conflict for a primary role in the Syrian conflict. Second, it wants to reap the benefits of Saudi and Emirati arms deals that have typically gone to Western nations.
During a visit to Moscow in late 2017, King Salman signed $3 billion worth of deals, providing Saudi Arabia with Russia’s famous S-400 air defense systems and commissioning a factory in the kingdom to produce Kalashnikov rifles. “We are convinced that the development of Russian-Saudi cooperation is primarily in the interest of our two countries, in the interest of stability in the world and in the region, and . . . is in no way directed against a third country, so we consider any concerns expressed in connection with this to be groundless,” said Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, in a statement about the deals.
In early 2017, the UAE concluded $5.2 billion of military deals with U.S. and Russian companies during IDEX, an international defense exhibition and conference organized every two years in the UAE. This amount was up from the 2015 IDEX, where the UAE signed $4.98 billion in deals. According to official figures, the UAE’s military budget in 2015 was $14.3 billion, larger than its federal budget of $13.1 billion for the 2015 fiscal year.
Most countries in the Middle East “were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17, and arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17,” according to a report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. During the 2013 to 2017 period, arms transfers to the UAE alone amounted to 13 percent.
Arms deals are not the only way that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have bought silence and international support for their military intervention in Yemen. In the first half of 2017, the volume of trade between the UAE and France reached 2.22 billion euros, putting the UAE in second place behind Saudi Arabia among France’s trade partners in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also providing grants and assistance to countries across the Middle East and Africa that support or participate in the military intervention in Yemen.
Egypt is currently one of the most prominent of the Arab and African countries participating in the Saudi-UAE-led coalition. In April 2016, Riyadh agreed to grant Egypt a $22 billion financial aid package, according to several reports. Between 2013 and 2017, Egypt received $60 billion of aid from Gulf states in the form of non-cash grants, central bank deposits, loans for subsidies, oil, and in-kind aid (where goods or services are directly provided instead of cash). Cairo received most of this support in the first two years after the country’s military coup in July 2013. However, in recent years, the amount of aid that Egypt has received from the Gulf has declined.
Ahmed Darraj, a professor of political science at Cairo University, believes that the financial aid that entered Egypt after the protests of June 30, which led to the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president after the Arab Spring in 2011, has subjected the country to the control of Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “In return for these grants, the [Egyptian] authorities have turned over the [Egyptian] islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia to satisfy the kingdom and [the Egyptian authorities are] currently displacing approximately 200,000 citizens in the island of Al-Waqq for the UAE,” added Darraj.
Since the beginning of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, various Gulf states have granted Jordan, which is currently suffering from a severe economic crisis, a total of $3 billion in aid. Saudi Arabia gave Jordan $474 million of aid in 2015 and $165 million in 2017. In 2018, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait committed a combined total of $2.5 billion in aid to Amman.
In late July 2018, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa concluded a successful visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which resulted in each country investing $10 billion in the African nation. These substantial investments are designed to buttress the military relations among these three countries, relations which have grown stronger since the beginning of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
Since March 2015, it is estimated that the conflict in Yemen has killed at least 5,900 civilian people and forced 3 million people from their homes. Moreover, 22.2 million people are in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, fuel, and sanitation because of the conflict.
However, the real death toll is probably much higher and continues to grow as innocent civilians die every day. Even though the U.N. has repeatedly highlighted Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the U.S. and other international power brokers seem to show very little empathy for the dire situation the Yemeni people are living in every day.
Yet, in contrast, the global outrage and fierce condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prove that not all lives are equal in the eyes of the world’s superpowers and the global community. Consequently, victims of conflict in Yemen and the rest of the developing world remain voiceless and helpless, while the U.S. and other global arms exporters continue to manipulate their fate and profit from their misery.