Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

France's Arms Industry on Defense after Sub Data Leak, UN Criticism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

France's Arms Industry on Defense after Sub Data Leak, UN Criticism

Article excerpt

It's been a bad week for French arms salesmen.

On Monday, the French government came under fire at a United Nations conference for continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that Saudi airstrikes in neighboring Yemen are killing civilians.

Then on Wednesday, it became clear that the top French submarine maker had suffered a data leak, revealing thousands of pages of secret specifications for a vessel the Indian Navy is now testing. The leak also raised questions about a $38 billion submarine contract the French signed with Australia four months ago.

France is the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, with business booming. But its success is coming at the cost of deals with governments with questionable human rights records, say critics.

"The French are more aggressive, and ready to do technology transfer deals even with countries doing things like killing their political opponents," says Aude Fleurant, an analyst at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors arms sales.

France, along with the United States and Britain, has not stopped selling arms to the Saudi government, even though its campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen has resulted in many civilian casualties. France's exports include self-propelled artillery pieces and guided missile systems that are in common use in Yemen.

The 2014 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) bans the sale of weapons likely to be used against civilians. This week's UN conference in Geneva aims to put teeth into the agreement.

Earlier this year, a UN panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaign found evidence of "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilian targets. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged ATT signatories to "set an example ... controlling arms flows to actors that may use them in ways that breach international humanitarian law."

"It is appalling hypocrisy of the worst kind" for France and others "to say they are committed to the ATT while blatantly violating it," says Anna MacDonald, head of the Control Arms Coalition of NGOs.

France is a major supplier of arms to the Middle East, selling big ticket items such as Rafale fighter jets to Qatar and Egypt, and Mistral amphibious assault ships, also to Egypt. Cairo's record of human rights abuses under Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has not stopped Paris from selling his regime armored personnel carriers destined for police use.

The French government attaches great importance to maintaining its arms industry as a guarantee of military autonomy. As purchases by the French armed forces have shrunk in recent decades, along with their manpower, arms manufacturers - most of whom are majority state- owned - have turned to exports in order to stay alive. …

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