Czech authorities are strict enough in weapons export licensing, says security expert

01-10-2013

A memorandum, released by the advocacy group Amnesty International last week, calls on the Czech Foreign Ministry to improve the process of approving arms deals for local weapons producers. The analysis says that more than 38% (around 103 million euro) of the total weapons exports in 2012 went to countries where human rights are not respected and where the political systems are barely democratic. This, the organization claims, hurts the positive image of the Czech Republic abroad and contributes to atrocities and violence perpetrated in certain countries. RP spoke to Andor Šandor, a security expert, to better understand the conext of the problem.

Illustrative photo: CTKIllustrative photo: CTK I began by asking the former chief of Czech Defence Intelligence if the issue of human rights is a part of the decision making process for granting weapons export licenses.

“To view the political situation in the countries to which arms trade is oriented is not really in accordance with the official policy of the Czech Republic. And who is involved in arms licensing is based on the law. So a major part in this is played by the Ministry of Trade, which gives the licenses, but there are other institutions, mainly the foreign office, which gives a substantial opinion. And based on my own experience, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very tough and doesn’t grant the license or doesn’t give support to many of the possible trade partners that our private companies are seeking out.”

So, when Amnesty International is criticizing those two ministries specifically – Industry and Trade and the Foreign Ministry – is that the right place to push, rather than trying to negotiate with the arms producers directly?

“Given my own experience, I would criticize the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because it is too strict in granting support for the possible arms trade. I’ve been part of a number of businesses as a negotiator and I witnesses that a number of them were banned by the foreign office, because their view of the political situation was rather strict. So, in my view, Amnesty International is not right in criticizing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for being too benevolent, I would say it is the other way around.”

What about the argument that there are certain historical ties between Czech arms producers and certain countries and that these are just simply have nothing to do with human rights or the political situation in the country?

“I don’t believe there are any ties, because during the previous regime we supplied weapons to Syria, we supplied weapons to Iraq and other countries. And these countries are no longer recipients. There is talk about selling aircraft to Iraq, but I personally don’t believe that this is going to happen. But there is political support for this. Why this trade will not materialize is not because the Czechs would not be willing, but I’m not sure if the Iraqis will really eventually buy these aircrafts.

Andor Šandor, photo: Czech TelevisionAndor Šandor, photo: Czech Television “But we do not supply arms to the Syrians. There is still some money that Syria owes us from the previous arms trade during the Communist regime. So what we try to do is to sell weapons to some African countries. And I agree that we should be very careful where to sell it. When I was the chief of Defense Intelligence I stopped arms trade to Zimbabwe, actually not because it is on our list of the forbidden countries, but because the British didn’t want us to sell it, so we complied even with our international agreements with our international partners.”

Is there really a way to determine this kind of list of countries that Czech arms dealers shouldn’t be selling to? The Amnesty International list, for example, includes Egypt, Yemen, but also Vietnam. Is there a way to make a list that everyone can agree on?

“I don’t think that it is conceivable in practice. Look at the United States. They still sell weapons to Egypt, even though they talked about an embargo, because there was a coup d’état. And the Americans did not want to accept that there as a coup d’état, because if it was the US would be forbidden from selling them weapons.

“But I think that in our country, the foreign office in particular, is very careful when it gives support for any arms trade, so in my perception this country is far from selling weapons to countries where it should not. But, on the other hand, let us be frank, if we don’t sell it, some other, not totalitarian but democratic countries’ private companies would.”

The Czech Republic and the United States, along with quite a few other countries signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty this summer. Although the Czech Republic still hasn’t ratified it, just as most other countries. But do you think that this treaty may change something, that it might clarify this problem internationally and for the local ministries?

“I would definitely be for better specification, for having a better treaty that would stipulate the conditions upon which each of the signatories could sell weapons. But whether it is conceivable, whether it is practical, I’m not quite sure. It’s a difficult problem and it should be looked at carefully, but whether it will have significant positive results, I’m not sure.”

Amnesty International claims that selling arms to certain countries affects the reputation that the Czech Republic has around the world for being supportive of human rights. But from the security standpoint, does the fact that the Czech Republic sells quite a large volume of military material to various countries where there are conflicts going on, does that put the country at a certain risk?

“I wouldn’t say that we sell a large amount of military materials and weapons to countries in general. What use to be is long gone and that situation will not repeat, because the industrial base for selling weapons is no longer what it used to be under the communist regime. So, in my perception, what we do end up selling does not harm our reputation in the international sphere, because, I don’t want to say it’s negligible, but the scope of what we sell or what we try to sell is far beyond what it was during the communist regime.”

So, from the security standpoint, there isn’t really a threat posed by the deals that Czech arms producers make around the world?

“No, I don’t think so. Look we do not sell arms to various parties fighting civil wars, we don’t do that. If anybody who wants to sell weapons came to the foreign office with a country where is underway, it would be rebuffed immediately. I am quite sure that our foreign office would not guarantee anything like that.

“If we try to sell weapons to Tajikistan, or some other countries, to help fight terrorism and drug trafficking and other things on the common borders with countries like Afghanistan, it’s quite often done with the help or with permission of the United States. So, in that respect, I don’t see anything potentially harmful for the Czech Republic in terms of arms trade.”

01-10-2013