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Why Is (Pacifist) Spain Selling Cluster Bombs to Libya?

While Spain’s Socialist government publicly preaches the virtues of post-modern pacifism, in private it is busy selling weapons to some of the most odious and repressive regimes in the world.

by
Soeren Kern

Bio

April 21, 2011 - 12:43 pm
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While publicly talking up the virtues of pacifism, however, Zapatero has privately been busy selling Spanish weapons to whoever will buy them. Spanish arms sales have skyrocketed by more than 150 percent during Zapatero’s tenure and Spain emerged as the world’s sixth largest supplier of weapons on 2010, after the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain. (Spain exported €907.6 million in weapons during the first half of 2010, compared with €400 million for all of 2005.)

The destination of Spanish weapons says much about the genuineness of Zapatero’s pacifistic convictions. Data show that the increase in Spanish arms sales is not primarily to other European or Western countries, but rather to distinctly non-pacifist developing countries such as China, Cuba, Iran, Libya and Venezuela.

In fact, more than 50 percent of Spanish arms exports go to countries involved in regional conflicts or that do not respect human rights, according to Amnesty International. Spain is also the largest exporter of weapons to one of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world, namely sub-Saharan Africa, according to Intermón Oxfam. The Zapatero government sold weapons to at least 17 so-called sensitive countries in conflict, even though such exports are expressly prohibited by Spanish and European law, according to Greenpeace España.

One of Zapatero’s biggest-ever arms deal has been with Hugo Chávez, the Socialist dictator of Venezuela. (Considering that Spain languished under a dictatorship for almost 40 years and only recently became a democracy, selling weapons to Venezuela could be viewed as rather unseemly, until one remembers that Zapatero believes that only right-wing dictatorships are repugnant; left-wing regimes and Islamic tyrants, on the other hand, are fellow travellers in the quest for Socialist utopia.) In response to critics, Zapatero has defended the €1.7 billion ($2.5 billion) contract in classically post-modern terms: he says the deal is a “business transaction with pacific weapons.”

In the case of Libya, Gaddafi was one of Zapatero’s best friends in the Maghreb up until just recently. In fact, the Spanish Socialist invited the Libyan despot to Madrid for a state visit in December 2007. Gaddafi returned the favour by promising to provide an economically ailing Spain with loans and investments valued at $17 billion. In exchange, Zapatero pledged to sell Gaddafi $2 billion worth of weapons, according to an American diplomatic cable that was obtained and recently released by Wikileaks.

Since then, Spanish arms exports to Libya have surged by more than 7,000 percent. Official statistics show that in 2008, Spain exported €3.8 million ($5.5 million) worth of “bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles,” including the now famous cluster bombs.

In January 2009, Spanish King Juan Carlos travelled to Libya in search of business opportunities for Spanish energy companies. In June 2010, Zapatero travelled to Libya in search of infrastructure projects in Libya. In a display of mutual affection, Zapatero also shared tea with Gaddafi in a desert tent on the outskirts of Tripoli, where the two leaders discussed the “injustice suffered by the Palestinian people” at the hands of Israel.

Just six months later, in what can only be described as a politically expedient reversal, Zapatero turned on Gaddafi. Spain is mired in the worst recession in its modern history. The country has a jobless rate of more than 20 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. With nearly five million Spaniards on the dole, a spiralling national debt, and a Socialist government with no viable strategy to avoid an economic meltdown, many analysts believe Spain is headed for a Greek-style bankruptcy.

Not surprisingly, newspaper commentators are saying there is nothing like a war in Libya to take Spanish minds off how bad things are at home. And there is nothing like a war to reinvent Zapatero’s reputation as incompetent economic crisis manager to zealous defender of democracy in Libya.

But what is driving the increase in Spanish arms sales? Spanish jobs, of course, and by extension, Zapatero’s job. Zapatero is working overtime to shield the Spanish defense sector — which is valued at €4 billion ($6 billion) and employs around 20,000 workers — from the effects of Spain’s financial crisis.

As budget austerity measures have made it increasingly impossible for the government to absorb its own regular demand for weapons, Zapatero has been busy looking for alternative export destinations. In October 2010, for example, Zapatero signed the biggest arms deal in Spanish history: A €3 billion weapons contract with Saudi Arabia.

Of course, Spain has the right to sell its weapons to whosoever it chooses. But the arms export data confirms, once again, the sham that is Zapatero’s post-modern morality, where “cherished” principles are tossed to the wind whenever they are not economically convenient.

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Soeren Kern is Senior Analyst for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.
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