The opacity of oil-drenched Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has failed to hide the blood-bath it has been shedding over several Middle Eastern nations, both directly and indirectly. A number of other countries have become suppliers to the Arab nation’s barbaric objectives that have been causing grave instability in the MENA region.
However, with increasing death toll in the war-torn regions, brutal killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights violations, Saudi’s partners in crime began pulling out their support.
The latest in the series of “unfriending” the Arab nation is the United Kingdom, which is the second-largest exporter of arms to the Saudis, after the United States, as the statistics suggest. Last month, the British government put a halt to the approval of any new licenses for selling weapons, after the judges ruled that the ministers acted unlawfully despite being aware about the possibility that it could lead to the violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
According to the UN, the Saudi-led military coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, has “targeted civilians … in a widespread and systematic manner”. While Saudis, with support of its major partner UAE, has claimed to have been fighting the rebels, rights groups have been protesting that their attacks have killed thousands of civilians in the last four years. Human Rights Watch reported deaths of 6,872 civilians as of November 2018, with 10,768 wounded.
The UK master of the rolls — Sir Terence Etherton, Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Singh — ruled in favor of the campaigners, who have been against the arms trade. They concluded that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, was “irrational and therefore unlawful”, as he licenced weapons exports without judging if the past incidents broke international law and if there was a “clear risk” of future breaches.
Where the activists celebrated the courts of appeal ruling, the government is likely to challenge it and drag it to the Supreme Court. Fox stated that the government had suspended new exports licenses for the Kingdom and its coalition in the vicious war, but the existing grants would not be suspended.
UK’s Contribution to Destruction
The move could have come sooner, but it is still a major setback to the UK’s rearmament of Saudi Arabia. A day after the four-year-old war began under the regime of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and the Saudi-led coalition dropped first bombs in Yemen on March 26, 2015, foreign secretary Phillip Hammond told reporters that Britain would “support Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”.
Since then, the UK arms companies, BAE Systems and Raytheon, increased the pace to keep up with the deadly attacks that Saudis are launching on thousands of civilians, along with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. According to the BBC, Britain licenced export of over 4.7 billion pounds (nearly $6 billion) to one of the biggest human rights abusers in the last four years. Moreover, from 2008-2017, the British government granted a total of 9,003 export licenses to the UAE, which included 6,038 exclusive grants for weapons and military equipment.
Where the UK ban on arms sale is being associated to merely weapons, not many are aware about the extensive assistance that the British nation solely provides to Saudi Arabia. Among the weapons that the Kingdom and UAE receive from Britain are precision-guided bombs, sophisticated armoured vehicles, grenades, rifles, rocket launchers and fighter jets.
As per a report by The Guardian, BAE systems and UK Raytheon were under government contract to manufacture Paveway bombs that costs £22,000 a piece, Brimstone bombs costing £105,000 per unit, and Storm Shadow cruise missiles for £790,000 a piece. Moreover, BAE has long been under a government contract to assemble jets in hangars located just outside the village of Warton, Lancashire.
In addition to weapons, BAE has also been sub-contracted to deliver logistical support, ensuring the provision of engineers and weapons maintenance inside Saudi Arabia. Reports revealed that nearly 6,300 British contractors are stationed at Saudi’s forward operating bases.
UK has been providing the Gulf nation with the personnel and expertise that is helping them to continue such barbaric wars. For years, the British government has been deploying RAF personnel to train Saudi pilots as well as to work as engineers.
According to the Stats, the United Kingdom had issued 103 licenses in 2016 with the value of 679 million and 126 licenses in 2017 worth 1.129 billion to export military goods to Saudi Arabia.
Beginning of Arms Trajectory
UK and Saudi Arabia share a long history of dealing in weapons. These weapons have been used to create chaos and deaths in several countries in the MENA region – Yemen, Syria, Libya and Sudan. The UK has been supplying arms to the Arab nation since 1960s. However, the first major deal was signed in 1985.
Becoming one of the biggest arms deal in history, it came to be known as The Al Yamamah. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the then-UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, son of former Saudi Defence Minister and Crown Prince Sultan.
Under the deal, the Saudis were receiving weapons supply from BAE Systems, which provided 48 Tornado IDSs, 30 Hawk training aircraft, 30 Pilatus PC-9 trainers, 24 Tornado ADVs, a range of weapons, radar, spares and a pilot-training programme, until 2007.
Years later, the Saudi negotiator, Prince Bandar came under allegations of receiving payments of £30 million every quarter for at least 10 years, from BAE. It was reported that the payments were a lobbying effort by the UK government— Thatcher and BAE Systems. The massive bribes were reportedly offered to persuade the Gulf nation to change its choice of French Mirage jets, leading the Kingdom to instead sign the deal for joint UK-French made Tornado.
While BAE Systems came under investigations, former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was quick to cover the matter under a black cloth. As his government came into power, Blair broke the law and abandoned the fraud investigation into a multibillion-pound arms deal, giving birth to newer controversies.
The scandals and lobbyists became successful in keeping the arms supplying route free of hindrances. The arms deal that began for strategic purposes soon turned into an economic agenda.
In 2013 and 2014, the British government issued three special export licences to BAE, which permitted the sale of an unlimited number of bombs to the Kingdom. Becoming an immunity for Saudi, these licenses exempted the requirement of disclosure of total sale. Despite the major sales not being on record, Britain’s military exports to Riyadh augmented almost 35-fold in a year— from £83m in 2014 to £2.9bn in 2015.
While the UK weaponry was already being deployed for wars in MENA countries, the western nation became the major supplier of arms and military support for Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen in 2015. The Guardian had reported that a majority of the bombs that fell on the war-torn country belonged to Britain.
Increasing Criticism, Decreasing Support
The country, under Prime Minister Theresa May, has been continuing the arms support, despite the increasing death tolls in both Syria and Yemen. On the other hand, protests from the Labour Party, world leaders and rights groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Amnesty International, continued to soar.
“Theresa May must prove that she is willing to stand up to the kind of repugnant behaviour shown by the killing of Khashoggi and halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately,” stated Belgian leader Philippe Lamberts.
May has been criticised of supporting husband Philip May, who’s an investment relationship manager at Capital Group, the largest shareholder in arms manufacturer BAE Systems. “While UK Prime Minister Theresa May supports Trump and Macron’s military action in Syria, she is also helping her husband’s investment firm to make a killing,” said political investigative journalist Johnny Vedmore.
After the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, where the UN recently reported to have “credible evidence” against Crown Prince MbS’ links in the operation, several countries — Germany, Belgium, Norway, Canada, Denmark and Finland — have discontinued arms trading with the Saudis. However, the major suppliers of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi — the US, UK and France — decided to turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s increasing human rights violations.
British foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, even tried convincing Germany to lift the ban. He wrote a letter to his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, stating, “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfill its NATO commitments.”
The UK’s diplomatic lobbying and relentless support for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), raised doubts that for British leaders, an economy thriving on blood-money is more important than the millions of lives being killed brutally every day.
Re-routing arms to rogue elements
Several reports released in the past reveal a disturbing scenario. The investigations and analysis have revealed that the arms that the Saudis and the UAE received from western countries ended up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra/al-Qaeda, hardline Salafi militias, rebel groups and other factions in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
Robert Fisk, The Independent’s correspondent, released a report in July last year, providing evidence that the arms sold by the United States to Saudi Arabia and the UAE were handed over to what the US State Department itself calls terrorist organizations’. He stated that ‘the buyers’ transferred several expensive weapons “to ISIS, al-Nusra/al-Qaeda … or some other anti-Assad Islamist group”.
Months later, in November 2018, The Guardian reported that an investigation into the weapons used in the Yemen war exposed how the weapons traded to the Saudi and UAE-led coalition by the US and UK, end up in the hands of militias. A report by journalist Mohamed Abo-Elgheit and the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalists (ARIJ) alleged that the weapons are also openly passed on to marginalised and feuding groups fighting their own territorial battles that serve the interests of the two Gulf nations.
The Arab powers — Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition — have strategically caused havoc through proxy wars. The US and the European nations have been equal contributors to the prolonged destruction, despite the resistance from their own people as well as the rights groups.
Recently, Switzerland banned its aerospace firm, Pilatus, from continuing its operations in Saudi Arabia and UAE. The restrictions came after the revelation that the Swiss company was providing “logistical support” to armed forces of the two countries. The move came after several other nations had already extricated their support.
While Saudi Arabia and UAE’s major arms trading partners, the UK, has suspended export licenses, only the US and France remain as the crucial allies serving Saudis’ merciless objectives. However, the US President Donald Trump is also facing soaring opposition from his administration and the Democrats over his unwavering alliance with the Arab nation.
The Saudi-led coalition, though, is increasingly losing the support it has been receiving from its international allies. The brutality that these Middle East powers have been inflicting may finally have become too much to bear for the global community.
Nuclear Weapons: How Safe Are We?
Some sixty years ago, American psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated a five tier hierarchy of needs. First, food and shelter followed by safety and so on, not that each need had to be satisfied fully to move to the next.
It might explain why thousands marched in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s when bellicose threats by leaders were not uncommon. Among the more notorious was Khruschev’s, ‘We’ll bury you,’ in 1956 during the Suez adventure by Britain, France and Israel. They seized the Canal after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized the controlling Suez Canal Company. Receiving no support from President Eisenhower, they somewhat shamefacedly retreated.
If one presumes all of those tensions were over with detente, then political and economic rivalries compounded by spheres of influence and their expansion have been overlooked. Thus to Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin unable to retreat further when NATO attempted to plant a dagger in the heart of Russia.
Well, some of the tensions have returned, and while an all-out nuclear war is still unthinkable, it can happen by miscalculation. For example, when one side deploys tactical weapons that a commander in an asymmetric war is unable to resist using against a large grouping of elusive combatants.
If fewer nuclear weapons are more desirable, the question remains, how few? Hence the START treaty signed by George Bush (Senior) and Mikhail Gorbachev although proposed originally by Ronald Reagan. It removed 80 percent of their nuclear weapons. So how many nuclear weapons are there in the world thirty years later, and how safe are we?
According to the latest count, Russia possesses 6,257 nuclear weapons of which 4587 are operational. In numerous ICBM silos and 11 nuclear submarines that can patrol close to U.S. shores, it is a formidable arsenal.
Of course the world has changed and Russia has removed all of its nuclear weapons from Ukraine. At the same time, it is developing new weapons and new delivery methods. This includes the very serious threat of a nuclear-propelled cruise missile with unlimited range. A very serious threat because cruise missiles can fly close to the ground under the radar. There is also Sarmat, a new ballistic missile capable of carrying up to 15 nuclear warheads, each with its own target. Thus a single missile could destroy just about all US major cities.
So what has the US been up to? It has 5600 nuclear weapons of which 3700 are operational. ICBMs based both in the US and the territory of its NATO allies place some of these next door to Russia. The very limited warning time requires a hair trigger response and should give us pause. Let’s hope Putin is not enjoying a sauna at the time and some general frightened with a use-it or lose-it scenario decides to let loose and save his motherland.
Then there are the other countries: UK (200 nuclear weapons), France (300), China (350), India (160), Pakistan (165), Israel (90), and last but now least North Korea (45). With all of this, how safe does one feel? An exchange between any of them — India and Pakistan come to mind — would cause a nuclear winter and mass starvation.
The real problem is that a small country with a large more powerful neighbor — again Pakistan and India — achieves a measure of equality or perhaps a stalemate through nuclear weapons, and thus security. It would be very difficult to persuade Pakistan (or for that matter Israel) to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Perhaps the best safety lies in an inclusive non-threatening world.
CSTO anniversary summit: New challenges and threats
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has marked its 30th year, at anniversary summit hosted by Moscow, with renewed multilateral documents strictly tasking its members forge a united security bloc to fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity, and against the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At least, one of the landmarked achievements is, if anything at all, its establishment and existence in the political history of member states.
After the collapse of the Soviet era that consequently witnessed all the 16 Soviet republics attaining their political independence, only six of them by agreement became what is referred to as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It is a dreamed replica of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
During the meeting held on May 16, at the suggestion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the CIS will receive observer status at the CSTO, according to various official reports. It implies that CSTO will undergo steadily, of not urgent expansion in numerical strength. Despite the sharp political differences, vast levels of economic development and all kinds of social difficulties, the CSTO currently is made of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
Reports say the Collective Security Treaty Organization stands for solving international problems by political and diplomatic means, a statement by the CSTO Collective Security Council on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the organization said.
“With the appropriate capacity to ensure the security and stability of member states, the organization firmly believes that there is no alternative to the solution of existing international problems by political and diplomatic means and gives priority to the development of coordinated approaches to the problems of improving the international situation, countering threats and challenges faced by Member States of the CSTO,” the statement published on the Kremlin’s website reads.
The statement notes that the peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in January “has confirmed the readiness of the collective forces (of the CSTO) to effectively solve the problems of ensuring the security of its member states,” and demonstrated to the international community the ability to quickly deploy and conduct missions, “thereby demonstrating the high status of the CSTO in the system of international and regional organizations.”
At the same time, according to the statement, during the period since the signing of the Collective Security Treaty, international relations in conditions of fragmentation of the world community “are increasingly characterized by the aggravation of tension.”
According to the materials prepared by the Kremlin, the member states aim at deeper military cooperation and more efficient interaction on an entire range of current and new challenges and threats, including those emanating from Afghanistan. The focus is also on the problem of biosecurity, as well as on enhancing their collective security system, peacekeeping potential, and mechanisms of rapid response to crises, heeding the experience the organization gained during its peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan.
Besides the group summit, Putin held separate bilateral interaction in a working breakfast format which was reportedly focused on forging ways toward deeping and strengthening military cooperation, and further on the situation in Ukraine. The Collective Security Council is the supreme body of the CSTO. It includes the heads of the states that are members of the organization.
It follows therefore that Vladimir Putin held these separate bilateral meetings with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon.
Putin at the bilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, noted that Moscow and Yerevan saw a good growth in bilateral trade in 2021, and both agreemed to maintain regular contact “on all issues on the bilateral agenda and on regional problems.” Russia and Armenia plan to continue their joint efforts to settle the Karabakh problem in the trilateral format, together with the partners from Azerbaijan.
Putin at the bilateral meeting with President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov praised relations between the two countries, noting there are issues requiring further detailed discussion. “Now there is an opportunity to talk about our bilateral relations,” Putin said. “There are many questions, but I would like to note right away that, on the whole, our relations are developing positively.”
The president highlighted a “rather serious” increase in trade between the two countries last year, which climbed by more than 30%. “Russia confidently occupies the first position in trade by Kyrgyzstan. There are, of course, issues that require a separate discussion,” he said. “I am very glad that on the sidelines of our international event today we can talk about these issues.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko strongly suggested, at the opening of the summit, the CSTO members step up political cooperation to resist foreign pressures and further warned that “opponents and foes” were systematically shaking loose the basis and relations of alliance. “In this respect we play into the hands of the West in a sense. I am certain that if we presented a common front, there would have never been what they call ‘sanctions from hell’,” he stressed.
“Stronger political cooperation and coordination by the CSTO member-states. The effectiveness of the mechanism of foreign policy and security consultations must be increased. We should speak out on behalf of the CSTO on international platforms more often to make the organization’s voice and stance well-heard and seen. There must be a common voice and a common stance, the way they are in the West,” he said.
Lukashenko noted that the West has been waging a full-fledged hybrid war against Belarus and Russia. “The unipolar world order is becoming a thing of the past, yet the collective West is waging an aggressive war to defend its positions. It is using all means, including in our organization’s zone of responsibility – from threatening the use of NATO weapons along our western borders to waging a full-fledged hybrid war, primarily against Russia and Belarus.”
He described NATO as “aggressively building up its muscles” with the aim of seeking to include neutral countries and acting under the you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us principle and “is hypocritically continuing to declare its defensive nature. The Collective Security Treaty Organization’s really defensive and peaceful position stands in contrast against this backdrop. It is evident that not a single country is a threat to the North Atlantic bloc.”
On the Russia-Belarus Union, he noted that Belarus’ participation ion the Union with Russia and in the CSTO has sobered up its potential opponents in the West. “Otherwise, I am afraid a hot war might have been unleashed in Belarus. By the way, they tried to do it back in 2020,” he added.
According to a joint statement by the leaders that was adopted, it noted to ensure the security of its borders amid an alarming situation in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. “The situation in Afghanistan and on other external frontiers of the CSTO member-states is alarming,” the statement said. “In connection with this, we express readiness to maintain security at the borders within the CSTO’s zone of responsibility.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, local Russian newspaper, reported that the attendees noted the significant role of the CSTO and peacekeeping forces in quashing the January insurrection in Kazakhstan, and also assessed the global situation and the topic of NATO’s expansion. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus noted that the members of the organization do not have unity. Some of them support the West’s actions against Moscow. He stated that “Russia should not fight alone against the expansion of NATO.”
Director of the East-West Strategy analytical center Dmitry Orlov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the CSTO is still not active enough. “In general, the CSTO still justified itself, but with some nuance. Not all members of the organization quickly and unconditionally decided to participate in peacekeeping missions. In particular, Kyrgyzstan argued for a long time whether to send their military to quell the protests that erupted over economic problems. The CSTO showed that the only guarantor of the security of the Central Asian region is Russia, because it had the largest contingent,” the expert said, adding that the post-Soviet security bloc did not become a serious alternative to NATO.
However, the organization may have a future, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin predicted the expansion of the association. According to him, the number of participants will increase to dozens of countries.
Chairman of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, Speaker of the State Duma (lower house of legislators) Vyacheslav Volodin congratulated the speakers of the parliaments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty.
“The CSTO has proven its effectiveness as a guarantor of regional stability, protection of the independence and sovereignty of the member states. Today, the organization serves as a dependable deterrent to the challenges and threats posed by international terrorism and extremism. The CSTO contributes significantly to the battle against drug trafficking and weapons, organized transnational crime, illegal migration,” Volodin was quoted on the website of the State Duma.
Volodin stated that the CSTO peacekeepers’ efficiency in supporting Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation in January of this year indicates the organization’s maturity.
The CSTO is an international security organization, which currently includes six member-states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. On May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which is no longer a member of the CSTO since 2012) signed the treaty establishing the organization. In 1993, Azerbaijan, Georgia (both countries left the CSTO in 1999) and Belarus joined the organization.
Lithuanian MOD admits Armed Forces capability deficit
According to the last public opinion poll, the trust of Lithuanian residents of the National Armed Forces is continuously growing, and NATO membership is viewed in a highly positive light. The more so, it states that 88% of respondents support allied presence on the territory of Lithuania.
It should be said, that the last report published on kam.lt, the official site of Lithuanian Defence Ministry, was conducted on 16–29 December 2021 when the increasing military expenditures did not influence the national economy as much as they impact it today.
Despite positive reports, even last year the Defence Ministry admitted that the military’s requirement for modern armaments, vehicles, equipment and supplies remains high, given the former lack of funding, increased Lithuanian Armed Forces structure, obsolescence of armaments, equipment and vehicles, and modern technology introduction costs.
The rapid increase in the number of the Lithuanian Armed Forces personnel, the increased volumes of military training and the provision of support by the host country have highlighted the shortcomings of new armaments, equipment and machinery in the units and the existing infrastructure of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The challenges currently facing armament and infrastructure development are due not only to the need for significant financial investment, but also to the legal and technical constraints that need to be addressed.
The Ministry of National Defence admits in its report that there are critical goals that should be achieved to meet national and Allied needs in a timely and high-quality manner:
the critical task is the smooth development of three new military towns (in Šilalė, Šiauliai and Vilnius),
the military training infrastructure must be further expanded by continuing the development of the main landfills of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and making decisions on the establishment of a new landfill;
therefore the focus must be on the development of viable infrastructure, gradually moving to complex development of military towns and abandoning non-viable infrastructure. Systemic solutions are needed for the rapid, high-quality and market-based development of National Defence infrastructure, such as better regulation, in order to accelerate the implementation of projects necessary for national security.
Another big problem for the National Armed Forces is lack of their attractiveness for the youth and the motivation of the soldiers.
Lithuanian military leadership admits either that the National Armed Forces lack sufficient capabilities as a host nation. Thus, Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said capability deficit is a major obstacle for NATO battalion-brigade shift. He stated that the lack of capabilities may become an obstacle to turning battalions deployed in NATO’s eastern countries into brigades.
Lithuania, as well as the contributing countries that send troops to NATO’s forward battalions does not have sufficient capabilities itself. He made a conclusion that Lithuania needs to build them up and assured the allies in the willing to contribute to that as well.
“As if we have a brigade, we can also contribute our share of capabilities to that brigade, which is what the Estonians, for example, are doing”, the minister said.
Lithuania and NATO’s other eastern members are pushing for a decision at the Alliance’s upcoming Madrid summit in June to increase the size of the NATO multinational battalions deployed in the Baltic states and Poland to brigade-sized units. The battalions were deployed here in 2017, and increasing troops in this region is on the table amid regional security concerns.
Thus, the unsatisfactory provision of the Armed Forces and capabilities deficit prevent Lithuanian leadership from achieving its political goals and leaves nothing but ask for additional NATO help. The time is near when the Alliance gets tired of constant demands and will stop funding annoying countries. NATO’s authorities have repeatedly stressed that each country should make the most of its own resources and not rely only on collective defense capabilities.
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