Unlike other commodities like grain or cars, selling weapons comes with a moral price tag – thus one should definitely pick their clients wisely and try to keep their deals legal.

The Canadian government approved a deal allowing General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) to close a 14-year, 10-billion-dollar contract with Saudi Arabia for light armoured vehicles including parts, support services and training. This was announced on February 14 by Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast – a Valentine’s Day present from a country widely viewed as a champion for defending global human rights to one of the world’s most politically oppressive regimes.

New deal, yet old pratice – since 1990, Canada has supplied over a thousand LAVs, based on MOWAG’s Piranha platform, to Saudi Arabia’s military, notably through arms deals with the United States.

Crticism arose from opposition politicians and human rights defense groups, citing state-sponsored violations of women’s rights and suppression of political opponents. while the Middle-Eastern theocratic monarchy isn’t known for widely using its military assets against its population, they still violate human rights in their strictest sense under the guise of Islamic Law.

According to current arms trade regulations, “Canada closely controls the exports of military goods and technology to countries that pose a threat to Canada and its allies, that are involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities, that are under United Nations Security Council sanctions, or whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of its citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk the the goods might be used agains the civilian population”.

And while the Saudi Royals still enjoy complete monopoly of power, the country has known its share of political uprising since the start of the 2011 Arab Sprig. Protests still occur puncutally, demanding the end of the absolute monarchy, to be replaced by a system ranging from a liberal democracy to the cradle of a new global Islamic caliphate, depending which group makes claims. The Saudi National Guard – trained by Britain, no less – crushed those revolts. And the National Guard is on the receiving end of the Saudi-Canadian arms deal. While there is no mention in the latest contract – most figures are still classified – The National Guard got their hands on most of the vehicles purchased from Canada since 1990.

This casts some doubt not just over the moral legitimacy of the deal, but also over its legality.

Moral considerations remain important, but there might be another reason why selling GDLS-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one that can undermine the Canadian Army as well as its allies on the battlefield. Saudi Arabia nationals remain a major sponsor of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban, mostly through fundraisers and front companies. The Canadian Army’s entire mechanized infantry doctrine heavily relies on the use of the LAV-III infantry fighting vehicle, also based on the Piranha platform. Multiple reports going as far as 2003 adressed the issue of al-Qaeda operatives infiltrating Saudi military and security agencies, raising the concern that they might feed information to armed groups fighting armies, Canadian or allies such as the US, using the LAV-III family.

In this light, selling Canadian military technology doesn’t seem very sound anymore despite the optimism stemming from the Canadian government. But allowing billion-dollar contracts to companies in strategic electoral ridings a year prior to a federal election sure can be.

(featured image : Associated Press)

 

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