Even as Europe condemned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s crackdown on protests, a new report says EU countries led by Italy and Malta have been busy peddling arms to Libya.
First published in January, the report has attracted renewed scrutiny after an escalation of violence against a popular uprising in the North African country.
The EU document, which refers to annual figures in 2009, says the bloc’s member states granted export licenses worth 343 million euros ($470 million) to Libya. Italy was shown to have approved exports worth 112 million euros, most of which was taken up by military aircraft. It was followed by Malta, which authorised the sale of an 80-million-euro consignment of small arms.
Germany was third on the list, with 53 million euros of licenses, mostly for electronic jamming equipment used to disrupt mobile phone, Internet and GPS communication.
Analysts say the sales by themselves aren’t surprising. In 2003, Gaddafi agreed to abandon efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, effectively ending his international isolation. The following year, the EU lifted an arms embargo on Libya.
“Libya at the time had a huge amount of old, out-of-date military equipment dating back to the Soviet era and was looking to modernise its armed force,” says Mark Bromley of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “It was the perfect opportunity for western arms companies to get a foothold in this lucrative market and incredibly oil-rich country.”
It’s a trend that’s continued. While Russia remains the biggest arms supplier to Libya, European defence companies – mainly from France, Italy and Germany – have been steadily increasing business ties with Libya. The US notably has largely kept out of the country’s defence market.
“As opposed to Europe, the general perception in the US is to take a much harder line on Gaddafi,” says David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at the UK-based IHS Jane’s. “There’s a lot of political pressure within Congress not to do big business with Gaddafi after the Lockerbie bombing,” he said.
The man who came in from the cold: “Gaddafi agreed to abandon efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, effectively ending his international isolation. The following year, the EU lifted an arms embargo on Libya,” writes Sonia Phalnikar
Hartwell estimates that America’s defence ties with Libya are in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars with most exports related to communications technology and not actual military hardware. With defence budgets shrinking in several western nations, many arms companies have been scouting around for new markets beyond Europe and the US.
“EU arms sales both to North Africa and the Middle East have soared in recent years,” says Kaye Stearman of the British arms control group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). “For example between 2008 and 2009, in North Africa alone, they went from just under one billion euros to two billion euros.”
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