NAVANTIA: THE PRIVATE WEAPONS DEALER FUELLING THE WAR ON YEMEN

WRITTEN BY EIMAN A.K. 

THE CONFLICT

Saudi Arabia’s war efforts in Yemen have not shown any signs of relent since 2015 when the nine nation coalition first formed with the aim of reshaping the result of the Yemeni Civil War. 

These war efforts have received an influx of military assistance since their inception, primarily from the U.S. and the UK, as well as France, Canada and Spain. Saudi Arabia has been highly determined in undermining the positions of the Houthi militia and loyalists of the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

This commitment to warfare in Yemen has resulted in a ring of arms deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars between some of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. 

Since the creation of the KSA coalition led by Saudi Arabia, a palpable surge in global arms sales has surfaced. The increase in trade of weaponry by Saudi Arabia had assisted in pushing global arms sales up by more than 10 percent since 2015. 

According to IHS Inc. in its ‘Global Defense Trade Report’, the world defence market rose to $65 billion in 2015; marking an increase of $6.6 billion from 2014. In early 2016, a report, released by the Military think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) stated:

“In the last five years, [the world] has seen weapons imports increase by 275% over the previous five year period, largely to fuel its expanding wars.”

With Saudi Arabia’s purchases increasing by about 50 percent to $9.3 billion, IHS Inc. describes the jump as the most prevalent annual rise in the past decade. 

According to Ben Moores, an IHS analyst, Saudi Arabia has imported a wide range of weaponry within the past year including, Apache helicopters, Eurofighter Typhoon jets, F15 Warplanes, drones, precision guided weapons as well as surveillance equipment.

NAVANTIA

Navantia, a private arms manufacturer, remains a major source of military war machines for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Navantia S.A is a 270 year old European military shipbuilder that provides its services to both the military and civil sector. Navantia currently plays a significant role to Saudi Arabia as a direct and private supplier of large-scale machines of war.

The impact and significance of Navantia's dealings with the KSA became evident when Riyadh refused U.S. state department’s offer to purchase four multi-mission Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) valued at $11.25 billion, due to the cost. Instead, Saudi Arabia turned to the private sector; Navantia replaced the U.S. proposal with an estimated €2 billion ($2.1 billion) contract. 

Riyadh had approved the production of five corvettes in variations of Navantia's Avante 2200 design in February 2016. However, a spokesman for Navantia stated:

“We can only confirm that negotiations are very advanced to build five warships which will be sold to the Saudi navy." 

The negotiations were carried out during Felipe VI visit to Saudi Arabia's King Salman as the EL Pais Spanish newspaper reports that the contract is "one of the imperatives of the visit". This would officially mark Navantia’s largest export contract to date. 

Although it is unknown how Royal Saudi Navy will configure and arm the new corvettes, these ships could potentially be equipped for anti-ship warfare (AShW) and anti-air warfare (AAW) via the Harpoon Block II and Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM) if they are bought in lieu of LCS based Multi Mission Surface Combatant equipment (MMSC). 

Growing concern regarding Saudi Arabia’s weapon deal with Navantia is prominent amongst many non-government organisations, with several declaring the potential sale illegal. Directors of Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the Peace Foundation and Oxfam Intermón have expressed their disagreement regarding Navantia’s contract with Saudi Arabia, evident through the open letter they had sent to the Spanish Prime Minister and Navantia. These NGO’s had released a report entitled ‘Licenses to Kill?’ which states:

"Nearly a third of Spanish arms exports in the first semester of 2015 was destined to the countries of the Saudi-led coalition operating in the war in Yemen since March 2015.”

The Spanish King had been called upon by Amnesty International to halt the sale of warships to the Saudi navy, disputing the dangers of this trade as it could be used to undertake “serious violations of international humanitarian law” against Yemen.

Esteban Beltrán, a director of Amnesty International (AI) in Spain, said, "Any possible arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen are illegal because it violates Spanish law and international arms trade".

The resounding concern of NGO’s is the scale of greater damage Saudi Arabia can undertake against Yemen, exacerbating the naval blockade it has implemented on Yemen since 25 March 2015. According to the UN, the death toll has reached 10,000 and over 8,100 wounded reported as a result of the conflict. Additionally, more than 21 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

THE IMPACT

A reality in which Saudi Arabia’s aggressive war crimes against Yemen are primarily fuelled by private dealerships is extremely troubling. The idea that expansive and remarkably unregulated arms deals between private sector players and warring parties, such as the one the KSA currently plans to undertake with Navantia, diminishes any moral limitation on the scale of warfare. Such deals provide the fertile ground for terrorism and inhumane wars to be carried out wherever funders please, all in aims of fulfilling tyrannical political agendas.

Navantia's relationship with the KSA and its contribution to the conflict in Yemen makes clear the level of freedom Saudi Arabia enjoys in purchasing and employing war crafts in the middle east. The lack of regulation and limitation on quantity and type of arms purchased by Saudi Arabia replaces any limit on the level of potential destruction in Yemen. 

Private-sector companies such as Navantia provide countries such as the KSA with the convenience and, most importantly, the immunity, to carry out longwinded campaigns of destruction without fear of supply shortages.

In the midst of analyzing such extensive arms exports, a question arises: what mechanism remains to prevent Saudi war crimes if there is no limit to what they may purchase and employ? 

When money is the only major determinant in what the KSA can and cannot employ in Yemen, there can be no confinement of criminal activity as a result of warfare. If Saudi Arabia can bypass regulated methods of purchasing weapons of warfare by interacting with private sector companies, there can be no restraint to prevent the propagation of crimes against humanity.