Spanish arms are all around the world. In the last 10 years, according to the J.M. Delàs Center of Studies for Peace, Madrid’s war industry has increased its turnover by 295%. These numbers place the country in seventh place worldwide as an exporter of military products, with a market share of 3.2%.
This is a business in constant growth, which “has not stopped even in the difficult and uncertain period on account of the COVID-19 pandemic,” as Albert Botran Pahissa, a member of the Chamber of Deputies from the Catalan Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, complained to il manifesto.
The latest balance sheet for the arms trade showed revenues of over €4 billion for 2019, up from the previous year. The numbers will be even higher in the future: in the last 10 years, only 41% of the contracts authorized by the Inter-Ministerial Regulatory Board on External Trade in Defense or Dual-Use Material (JIMDDU) have been delivered for export, because military aircraft and warships are the most requested products (followed by ammunition and bombs), which take a long time to be delivered.
In the sale of its weaponry, Spain is pursuing two main policy lines: one economic (selling at the highest possible price) and one geopolitical (selling to its allies). Among the major buyers are Germany, the United Kingdom and France. In this sense, “the sale of arms acts as an instrument of foreign policy,” Botran tells us, “balancing out other sectors where Spain is weak.”
The growth of the arms industry has been constant, regardless of which party was in government. The report underlines that both the PSoE and the PP have implemented similar policies regarding arms sales. The governments that have followed one another since 2010 have lowered production costs in order to be “more competitive,” says the report from the J.M. Delàs Center. 2008 is considered to be the turning point: the then-Defense Minister, Pedro Morenés (PP), encouraged foreign arms sales to make up for the austerity measures applied to the budget of his ministry. This was the start of a positive trend for the whole industry.
About a third (27%) of the arms exported in 2019 went to Asian countries, a market in which Spain’s presence is growing. Among these, South Korea stands out, followed by Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. Asian rearmament has involved all countries in the region, albeit to different degrees. This is due to many factors, from the tensions in the South China Sea to the instability of the conflict between India and Pakistan and the fear of Chinese hegemony in the area.
In the Middle East, the countries with which Spain’s arms industry does the most business are Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates and Egypt, states that systematically violate human rights and are engaged in military conflicts with thousands of civilian victims, such as in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has bought two military transport planes, ammunition and other equipment worth a total of about two billion euros over the last ten years. Al-Sisi’s Egypt has seen an increase in purchases of Spanish small arms from 2013 to 2016.
“We, the CUP, denounce the fact that there are military conflicts being fueled by Spanish weapons, which goes against national and European legislation,” explains Botran, who stresses that this issue also involves other EU countries as well. However, the matter of military exports is also regulated by the Official Secrets Law, complicating the mechanism of political and legal control over the contracts concluded.
Most military production is concentrated in the Basque Country, Andalusia and the province of Madrid. In these companies as well, “we find the forms of generalized precariousness that we have in many other sectors,” says the Catalan deputy. “The trade unions are usually not critical of what is being produced in these factories, because they are threatened with unemployment if production is stopped.”
However, “there are businesses where only 20-30% of production is military in nature, and in these cases we can think about a conversion to the manufacture of other products,” Botran continues. ”Because, with the pandemic, we have found that it is necessary to make healthcare products, not weapons.”