Spain: U-turn on Saudi missile order

Around a dozen people climb over the rubble of demolished buildings in Yemen.
Andrew Metheven

The Spanish government has decided to go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, worth more than $10m, a few weeks after saying they would cancel the order because of the appalling impact on civilians of the Saudi-led coalitions war against Houthi rebels. The missile deal was signed in 2015, the same year that the coalition began a bombing campaign. Spain's main broadcaster said the bombs would have been used in Yemen.

The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, announced the U-turn on Thursday 13th September, telling the media “the decision is that these bombs will be delivered to honour a contract from 2015, which was made by the previous government and in which no irregularity has been detected that would bar it from happening." The decision followed protests from Navantia, a state-owned ship building company. As well as the missile order, Spain has a €1.8 billion agreement with Saudi Arabia to supply five war ships. The workers argued that cancelling the missile order might also put the order for ships in jeopardy.

The war has left more than 10,000 people dead, and a famine threatens the lives of millions. Amnesty International has said all of the parties involved in the war have committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law. In August 2018, a bomb hit a school bus, killing more than 40 children. Debris allegedly collected at the site of the bombing indicated that the bomb used was made by American company Lockheed Martin. Despite the high levels of civilian casualties, and the accusations of war crimes, Borrell claimed that the missiles Spain is selling to Saudi "do not create collateral effects".

Between 2014 and 2017, Spain has sold $352m worth of weapons to the Saudi military. Earlier this year, the Flanders region of Belgium banned at least some arms sales to Saudi Arabia and/or the UAE, as did Norway, Germany, Finland and Canada. Collectively these countries make up a relatively small fraction of the arms currently being sold to Saudi Arabia, the vast majority coming from the USA ($8.4bn worth since 2014) and the UK ($2.6bn since 2014).

This article was updated on 17th September, to reflect the fact that the Spanish government's decision has changed. The article originally said that the Spanish government had decided to cancel the missile order.

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