The International Defense Exhibition Continues the Flow of Western Weapons into Yemen

The annual International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates took place from February 17 to 21 last week, raising ethical questions regarding the use of Western arms in Yemen’s civil war. UAE has signed $3.3 billion in arms contracts since Sunday, according to Reuters, including a $1.55 billion deal with United States contractor Raytheon. With UAE and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni conflict, providing these countries with arms is therefore supporting further violence in the country. Evidence of this can be found through the Belgian machine gun showcased at the exhibition that has been known to be used by Yemeni militia in the Hodeidah offensive, according to Amnesty International. While an all-party House of Lords committee determined the Great Britain government’s weapon sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful, the government has also urged Germany to exempt them from their Saudi arms ban, as it is harming the British economy.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt wrote to Heiko Maas, his counterpart in Germany, that he is “very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defense industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfill its NATO commitments,” according to Reuters. Despite its impact on the British economy, the House of Lords report determined that “Although conclusive evidence is not yet available, we assess that [the government’s licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia] is narrowly on the wrong side [of international humanitarian law]: given the volume and type of arms being exported to the Saudi-led coalition, we believe they are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen.” Amnesty International also highlights these issues in their report on weapon transfers to Yemen, noting the destruction of schools, hospitals, and markets with American and British arms.

It is imperative that the flow of weapons to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia ceases, as it is directly contributing to the human rights violations in Yemen. While it is positive that the House of Lords Committee recognizes this, it is very disconcerting that the British government does not see the issue and is more concerned about how Germany’s ban is affecting their economy. Civilian hubs such as markets and schools are being targeted as well as hospitals and clinics. While some western countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway, have started to restrict weapons sales with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, others are so far removed from the problem that they are simply turning a blind eye to the atrocities that they are contributing to in order to make billions from defense contracts.

The conflict in Yemen began in 2013 when the Houthis took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, reinforced by the United States, led the retaliation against the Houthis to reestablish the internationally-supported government in March 2015, according to Al Jazeera. More than 75 percent of Yemen’s total population, or 22 million people, need humanitarian aid, 8.4 million of whom are at risk of severe famine. In addition to the collapsed economy and cholera outbreak the war has caused, Al Jazeera notes that more than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed so far as well as more than two million displaced. The western weapons being sold to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula are subsequently being brought into Yemen and are resulting in civilian deaths. The weapons that will be supplied to UAE by Raytheon and other Western defense companies as a result of this new contract will undoubtedly find their way into Yemen to bring destruction to another civilian area.

The International Defense Exhibition is very unethical at this time, especially given its proximity to the conflict in Yemen. Rather than spending billions on unnecessary defense contracts, the UAE and Saudi Arabia could be directing this money towards aiding the civilians in Yemen and helping to end the war instead of perpetuate it. Countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Canada, Belgium, and Australia need to cease supplying weapons to the Arabian Peninsula, knowing that they are likely costing innocent lives. This is a time when the global community should be promoting resolution in Yemen, not vying for the highest weapons contract bid.

Maura Koehler


The Organization for World Peace