Slovak arms in Saudi Arabia

SMER built their whole spring election campaign on the premise that Slovakia had no responsibility for or connection to the refugee crisis. Yet, according to the UN registry, Slovakia became the largest (declared) small arms exporter in 2015.

Photo: LA(Phot) Dave Jenkins


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Rumors, “off the record” information and unconfirmed reports 1 on arms exported under Slovak license have been circulating for years.

In July 2016 The Guardian, in cooperation with a network of investigative journalists from the Balkans published an extensive investigative report 2 on arms transfers from Central Europe to Saudi Arabia, amounting to a supposed hundreds of millions of euros.

Bratislava, Belgrade and Sofia, where flight logs were discovered of heavy airlift planes, were pinpointed as main hubs of this network. But official, tangible data on the amount of arms cargo transported, and the scope of operations, was missing.

The UN Registry on Conventional Weapons is a voluntary instrument for arms reporting, a result of post-Cold War disarmament efforts. The registry reported that in 2015 alone Slovakia transferred 38,500 assault rifles (more than likely vz58s, which are similar to Kalashnikovs), hundreds of mortars and various artillery systems, including heavy artillery systems, to Saudi Arabia. 3

For an illustration of the scope – this many arms would restock the Slovak army approximately three times. According to the UN registry, Slovakia became the largest (declared) small arms exporter in 2015. This is the first time we have seen the actual data on arms transfers reported in an official document.

The data released to the UN, identifies Slovakia’s apparent connections with Serbia and Bulgaria for the transfer of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, for example, as suggested by The Guardian. Intriguingly enough, no other countries are so forthcoming in their own reporting.

It is not yet known why Slovakia suddenly became so transparent in its dealings with Saudi Arabia – be it by mistake or some insider’s intent – because the official government policy remains secretive. Just last week, for instance, Slovakia became the only Arms Trade Treaty signatory that decided its annual treaty report will not be released to the public. 4

This incident is also further testimony to the unreliability of national reports (usually) provided by the ministries of industry, licensing authorities under EU rules. Slovak data is messy; no serious analytical conclusions can be drawn from it, because all details remain classified. 5

Discrepancies are also rampant. From 2014 to 2015 hundreds of handguns were exported to Somalia, without being mentioned in the Slovak Ministry’s report. This might also explain why Slovak arms have been sighted on Mogadishu’s black markets, as reported by open-source intelligence websites, like Conflict Armament Research’s iTrace. 6

The Saudi army, working with high-end Western technology has little need for old Warsaw-pact military hardware. The only viable explanations behind those transfers are the weapons further diversions into civil wars in either Syria or Yemen, or both.

All of this happening under the watch of Prime Minister Robert Fico, and is a blatant statement of the hypocrisy underlying his rhetoric and foreign policy. SMER built their whole spring election campaign on the premise that Slovakia had no responsibility for or connection to the refugee crisis.

“We are all crying over Syria, but we all know European countries are sending weapons and training insurgents in Syria. So you have countries that support the civil war in Syria, and as it happens, some of those prime ministers criticize Slovakia because it refuses to accept the quota system for migrants. Stop the civil war in Syria,” 7 said Fico as heavy Slovak cargo carrying Antonovs were literally lifting tons of military material en route to the Middle East as he spoke.

When Fico, or his Ministry of Defense was confronted with the latest findings, they claimed, in line their Bulgarian and Serbian colleagues, 8 that “weapons are a business just as any other,” and then said that, “if we did not sell, somebody else would fill our place.” 9

Fico also claimed that arm exports are responsible for Slovak job creation. This is questionable given the types and amounts of weapons sold; it is more likely that weapons dealers, who re-export hardware for Eastern European states, such as Belarus, are the ones making money, rather than the ordinary Slovak blue-collar factory worker.

The government has also claimed that it has no responsibility for where the hardware actually ends up. This is contradictory to the EU Arms Exports Code of Conduct 10 that Slovakia agreed to under the CFSP, which clearly states that countries must deter the export of arms to regions where there is a high chance of uncontrolled diversions to other end-users. Similar provisions are provided for in the new Arms Trade Treaty 11 of which Slovakia is also a signatory.

The uncontrolled and irresponsible exports of Warsaw-pact weapons to civil wars across the Middle East and Africa remains one of the significant driving forces of sustained instability in that region. 12

We need to understand that even if our perceived influence in regional security affairs is small, issues like this illustrate the many ways the Visegrad and Balkan countries influence the region’s wider security landscape. For starters, local leaders need to understand this responsibility.

Notes:

  1.  Miro Kern, “Ficova vláda dovolila vývoz desaťtisícov zbraní, raketometov aj pušiek, asi končia v Sýrii,” dennikn.sk, March 1, 2016, http://bit.ly/2ctBINx (accessed September 5, 2016).
  2.  Ivan Angelovski, Miranda Patrucic and Lawrence Marzouk, “Revealed: the £1bn of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East,” The Guardian, July 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/2awK3wP (accessed September 5, 2016).
  3.  United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, “Slovakia 2015,” http://bit.ly/2ctB5AN (accessed September 5, 2016).
  4.  Arms Trade Treaty, “Reporting and Deadlines,” http://bit.ly/2ceoUdA (accessed September 5, 2016).
  5.  Ministerstvo Hospodarstva Slovenskej Republiky, http://bit.ly/2bSkxnf (accessed September 5, 2016).
  6.  itrace website portal, http://bit.ly/2c72ytV (accessed September 5, 2016).
  7.  Miro Kern, “Ficova vláda dovolila vývoz desaťtisícov zbraní,” dennikn.sk, http://bit.ly/2ctBINx (accessed September 5, 2016).
  8.  Jelena Cosic, “Serbia’s Vucic Defends Mideast Arms Sales: ‘I Adore It When We Export Arms’,” OCCRP, August 2, 2016, http://bit.ly/2c6eziz (accessed September 5, 2016).
  9.  “Za to, že vyvezené zbrane končia v Sýrii nenesieme zodpovednosť, tvrdí Gajdoš,” hnonline.sk, August 26, 2016, http://bit.ly/2c72nP5 (accessed September 5, 2016).
  10.  European Union External Action, “Arms Export Control,” eeas.europa.eu, http://bit.ly/1Kv53jv (accessed September 5, 2016).
  11.  The Arms Trade Treaty, http://bit.ly/2c72zOj (accessed September 5, 2016).
  12.  See: Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars, Natraj Publishers: 1999; Mark Duffield, Global Governance and New Wars, Zed Books: 2001.
Martin Dubéci

Martin Dubéci

works as a freelancer. Previously he worked at the Ministry of Finances for the project Minerva and later as advisor to the Deputy-Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic. In 2014 he was Chief of Staff of Radoslav Prochazka´s 2014 Presidential campaing and later Head of Political Strategy&Analytics of the political party Sieť and think-tank Alfa.