Harry van Bommel: Stop selling arms to Riyadh

11 January 2016

Harry van Bommel: Stop selling arms to Riyadh

An arms embargo on Saudi Arabia is needed in the fight against terror, argue Members of Parliament Harry van Bommel of the SP and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma of D66.

The mass execution of forty-seven prisoners in Saudi Arabia, one of whom was a Shi’ite cleric, opened fault lines throughout the Arab world, as well as to a storm of urgently needed protest.

Western countries, including the Netherlands, stayed as silent as ever in the face of Saudi Arabian abuses in the country itself and beyond. The government’s view is that is that it must handle the Saudis observantly and with great care. ‘Silent diplomacy’ has certainly not succeeded against flogging and beheading. The question becomes urgent as to when the cabinet will decide that enough is enough.

Saudi Arabia’s use of cluster munitions in Yemen was not sufficiently shocking, nor was the intended crucifixion of teenagers, or the law which declared dissidents to be terrorists. Even now the government holds fast to its ‘business as usual’ line. All of this is done in the guise of 'realpolitik': we have need of the Saudis elsewhere. But realpolitik is here little more than solid cynicism.

Maintaining the alliance between the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia comes at a price. It constitutes support for a country which both shapes and spreads Wahhabism. Saudi rulers use their petrodollars to finance countless extremist schools and welfare organisations. The same Wahhabism forms an important breeding ground for ISIS and other Jihadist groups. The religious-industrial complex of Saudi Arabia has contributed to the rise of ISIS.

In other words, Saudi Arabia is as terrifyingly successful as is ISIS. Its top two export products? Oil and Wahhabism.

As long as the government fails to realise sufficiently that Saudi Arabia supplies the fuel for terror, we won’t be able to win the fight against ISIS and the Jihadists, or combat what leads to Jihadism.

Principled line

Does it then make sense to despatch the human rights ambassador, as Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has proposed? It’s good that he’s going, but the effects will be minimal.

We remember his predecessor Frans Timmermans, who would set off to Riyadh at any time to avoid a trade boycott. The Saudis only had to indicate when they could receive him. Nothing came of the visit. .

Riyadh’s position will not be changed through words alone. That’s why it’s time for an arms embargo. It would be most effective if this were done at European level, given the fact that the United Kingdom, France and Belgium are major exporters of weaponry to Saudi Arabia.

If there’s no European unity on this, however, then the Netherlands must take a principled line. Our exports of military material are relatively limited, amounting to a few billion euros in 2014. You might then expect Koenders to draw a line, and quickly. The opposite is true. Both coalition parties, the centre-left PvdA (Labour) and centre-right VVD (Liberals) recently blocked a broadly-supported parliamentary motion to freeze arms exports.

Minister Koenders today opens a major anti-terror conference in The Hague. That’s commendable. We will not, however, win the fight against ISIS and other terror organisations if we continue to turn a blind eye when countries ideologically stir this terror up.

This article first appeared on 11th January, 2016, in the original Dutch, in the national daily newspaper Trouw.

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