Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Into the arms of the tiger

As expected, the EU is planning to strengthen its arms export guidelines when its six-year-old voluntary code of conduct receives its annual review in December.

Official sources, cited by DefenseNews, suggest that changes proposed include clearer rules on arms brokering and notification of weapon trans-shipments, as well as new guidelines for assessing the political and economic impact of arms exports to developing countries.

This, however, is not as benign as it sounds, especially as the intention is that it should remain a voluntary code will not become a legally binding document in the foreseeable future. The hidden agenda is that the stronger language in the code should pave the way for the lifting on the arms boycott on China, permitting EU member states to sell advanced weapons to the PLA.

There also seems to be another agenda at play as well, as code of conduct's prospective strengthening coincides with the EU initiative to strip away national obstacles to cross-border defence procurement.

This links back to the commission Green Paper on defence procurement which defines a course of action expected to lead to unprecedented tendering rules in the latter half of 2005 tailored specifically to Europe’s defence sector.

Gert Kampman, a Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, speaking for the EU presidency, drew a future connection between the two developments: strengthening the code and creating new procurement rules.

"The EU's arms export code is not being strengthened directly in parallel with the green paper’s future defence-market rules - that’s going too far as an assumption," Kampman said. "But there is certainly an awareness within the council and national governments that an internal defence market will need a uniform arms export policy. Eventually, it will all need to come together."

Whether it does or not, the new code could be dangerous, leading us straight into the arms of the tiger.

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