The Spanish Defence Ministry announced on Tuesday that they would be scrapping and refunding a €9.2 million deal to sell 400 laser guided missiles to Saudi Arabia in direct response to the unpalatable attack on a Yemeni school bus that killed 40 children last month. The deal was signed in 2015 under the previous administration of Mariano Rajoy.
This represents the first sign of new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez adhering to his promise to seriously dissect Spain’s military relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their seemingly endless list of warcrimes on Yemeni civilians. Generally not regarded as Middle-Eastern military heavyweights, Spain’s ascendance to the 4th most lucrative weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia under former conservative leader Mariano Rajoy – who was ousted in June following the largest corruption scandal in the country’s history – flew largely under the international media radar.
A large antiwar movement in Spain has successfully spread awareness and fomented support for readdressing the Saudi connection since the Yemen war began in 2015. The ascendance of left-wing Green alliance Unidos Podemos to rival the traditional duopoly has managed to pull the Sánchez-led centre-left PSOE towards military-industrial reform; Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias spent much of 2017 rousing the Spanish political elite to sever ties with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Although Podemos as well as the influential NGOs Amnesty International and GreenPeace should be proud of galvanising this important first step in assuming a more responsible relationship with a genocidal monarchist state, it’s sadly just a drop in the water compared to the €1.8 billion deal for Spanish warships that was signed under the Rajoy administration in April. Saudi Arabia are currently using similar vessels to lay siege to Yemeni ports such as Hodeida, resulting in the worst cholera outbreak in history and pushing almost 20 million people into ’emergency’ food situations. Considering this, it is not cynical to assume that Saudi Arabia intend to use their upcoming Spanish vessels for further destructive purposes.
Two European Parliament resolutions against any new arms deals with Saudi Arabia have already successfully passed, however without any mechanism for sanctioning member states that break the EU Common Position on Arms Exports these gestures have no more impact than a strongly-worded letter or a shake of the head. There was sincere talk of a possible EU full weapons embargo on Saudi Arabia in 2017, but since the largest exporter to Saudi Arabia will be leaving the EU next month it is near impossible to envisage any meaningful reform coming through the European Union.
Instead of hoping for a miraculous EU embargo, the best bet to disarming Saudi Arabia is to follow the model laid down here by Spain: support leftists and Green candidates to pressure the neoliberal centre into abandoning military profiteering. It means supporting Corbyn/Momentum in the UK, Sanders/DSA in the US and Melanchon/La France Insoumise in France to hold the feet of the warmongering Blairite/Clintonite/Macronite centre to the fire when it comes to foreign policy.
It may be baby steps, but it is ultimately possible to make life difficult for the military-industrial complex through traditional parliamentary or congressional channels, however difficult it may seem. It will never achieve the same results as direct action, but you have a vote and you might as well use it.