Russian Vice-Premier visits Belgian arms company FN Herstal
On December 20th-21st 2012, Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Vice-Premier in charge of the Defense industry, visited the Belgian arms company FN Herstal, according to the Russian press agency Itar-Tass.
The nature of the visit is not clear. The Russian embassy did not have any information on it, nor did the Russian mission to the EU. The Russian representation to NATO did not reply to our multiple requests, so far.
It is not the first time Mr. Rogozin visits FN Herstal. In 2010, he posted on his Twitter account a picture of him shooting a FN SCAR-L short, apparently at a FN shooting range.
Arms diversion, hard evidence and the need for accountability
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Both Gulf countries, producers of a limited amount of small arms, were and are important importers of such weapons. They made public declarations in May 2012 in which their intentions of providing small arm to the Syrian rebels were clear.
Since then, numerous reports have been published, confirming that transfers were being done. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, himself, declared on the radio that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing weapons to the insurgents. The risk of arms diversion from the Gulf countries to Syria is high, but one thing was missing until now, according to the Walloon government: hard evidence of such diversion.
Since a couple of days, journalists and arms researchers collaborated to provide more details on an ammunition box the BBC had found in a rebel base in the city of Aleppo. Their investigation shows that Saudi Arabia appears to have diverted Ukrainian ammunition to the Syrian rebels.
More material has been collected in Syria by journalists: Serial numbers of Belgian-made FAL rifles that appear not to come primarily from Syria itself. In order to know if this material could constitute more hard evidence of arms diversion, a tracing procedure has to happen, and the results of such a procedure have to be made public.
Here are more pictures of Belgian FAL rifles in Syria:
Sample 1: Right side serial number (no left side serial number)
Sample 2 (down, with sample 1, up)
Sample 2: right side serial number (no left side serial number)
Sample 3: right side serial number (no left side serial number)
Sample 4: left side serial number
Sample 4: right side serial number
The Walloon government (the authority issuing arms export licenses when it comes to the FN Herstal factory, and the sole shareholder of the company), which should by now be able to use this material in a tracing procedure, should also give more details on what elements have to be gathered by researchers in the field in order to guarantee an effective tracing procedure.
Long overdue: access to Belgian arms export licenses issued between 1982 and 2003 granted, with a “bemol”
This was long overdue. First to you, who reads this post. As you will certainly see by examining the letter below, dated from the 10th of September, I did not do my homework on time. I was a little bit busy in Syria, in September, and now busy writing about it - and there is still work on the table.
Long overdue, it was, also to the public record, the common knowledge, and to transparency, accountability and history.
There is a lot to say about the Belgian arms export licenses granted throughout the years. About what they contain, and how they were handled: We will talk in due time. For now, let’s focus on getting access to them. If one wants to know what Belgium - an important and historic European arms producer and exporter - possibly sold to the world, one would turn to those archives the administration has to send to a special office, who gathers them, works on them, and makes them (some of them), available for research.
We encountered several problems while trying to get access to those archives. Once again, allow us to come back at length on this later. For now, the savor of a small victory.
In July 2012, we asked the Belgian Ministry of Economy to be granted access to the Belgian arms export archives from 1983 to 2003, which are not supposed to be public, but which can be accessible if one has a good reason. Well, we had a good reason, and we still do: we want to map the Belgian arms proliferation.
This access was refused to us. We appealed the decision, asking the Ministry to reconsider it, while asking a special Commission to give its advice. In September, the Ministry changed its position, as you can read in the letter it sent to us, granting us access to the archives.
Now, there’s always something bitter in victory, isn’t there? In Belgium, the federal authority was granting arms export licenses until 2003, then it became regional. But there was a first partial regionalization of the competence in 1991. Therefore, the federal archives dated from after 1991 do not bear as many details as the ones dated from before, and another procedure has to be followed now.
Nonetheless, the pre-1991 archives are very interesting, and we’ll need a lot of time to study them. Well, the ones we found. Because, there, too, we could not get access to everything. That’s another story. And we’ll come back to it, later.
10 more pictures from Florennes, Belgium, where Benoît Theunissen (@BenTheunissen) and I visited the 80 UAV Squadron. There will be more about this in October. Time is running, and I have to pack my bag for a two-week job in the Middle East.
Pictures by Benoît Theunissen
Did you know that Belgium had drones?
An Ops Squadron in a Ground Control Station (GCS) in Florennes, Belgium. The 80 UAV Squadron has 12 B-Hunter drones. On the picture: Chief Warrant Officer Briot (left), Pilot Navigator; Lieutenant Parmentier (center), Mission Commander; and First Sergeant Collignon (right), Real Time Observer.
More about the Belgian UAV soon (relatively soon).
photo: Benoît Theunissen (@BenTheunissen)
Avis n°2012-65 sur le refus de donner accès aux licences d’exportations d’armes délivrées par le SPF Economie
Voici l’avis n°2012-65 rendu le 13 août 2012 par la Commission d’accès aux et de réutilisation des documents administratifs. Cet avis porte sur le refus implicite de donner accès aux licences d’exportations d’armes délivrées par le SPF Economie.
Cette demande fait partie d’une enquête plus vaste dont nous reparlerons bientôt. La balle est maintenant dans le camp du SPF Economie. Plus d’information sur la procédure en cours ici.
An article published in Le Soir yesterday (August 22, 2012).
Nic Marsh (aka @NisatPrio) sent me this link in the morning. A research was made with journalists from Le Soir, who were able to confirm the story on the Belgian side, and to add some elements. A very interesting development to this event that shocked Belgium in December 2011 and prompted the government to adopt new, stricter laws on the national level regarding guns possession.
In Belgium, illegal arms brokers have little to fear
This 16-page document was first leak to a Reuter’s journalist in Sierra Leone at the end of February 2012, a few days later on the websites of some Sierra Leonean media outlets.
If you’re interested in what’s going on in Belgium, you might want to skip to pages 15 and 16.
In 2003, Belgium adopted a law intended to control arms brokers. This law doesn’t meet the European requirement and, furthermore, has never been applied by the authorities, although the problem was well known.
For almost ten years now, Belgian illegal arms brokers operate under the radar and have nothing to fear from the government. Serge Muller is part of them.
In January, a shipment of thousands of Chinese weapons arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Intended to the paramilitary wing of the police, the firearms raised some questions from the United Nations special envoy.
Serge Muller acted as a broker in the deal, as he did almost 15 years ago, during the civil war. He never asked for any license in Belgium, but has little to fear, as shows a months-long investigation supported by the Fonds Pascal Decroos that will be published in Dutch on Wednesday 25th of July in the Knack, and in French on Thursday 26th of July in Le Vif/L’Express.
Out of about 40 countries that have a substantial defense production (and additional 60 countries that manufacture arms and ammunition on a smaller scale), only 35 countries make their reports on international transfers of conventional arms publicly available and only 25 provide data on actual exports.
This remark is taken out of the appendix of a very interesting report on maritim transport and arms shipments, published on the 10th of July 2012 by the International Peace Information Service and TransArms-Research.
Although the report talks about something else than purely arms production, licenses and export, I felt that this remark was quite interesting. It underlines another lack of transparency characterizing the defense sector, and continues like this:
The “arms trade reports” by Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom do not provide any data of the actual deliveries, only data on the number and value of licenses for export or imports, basically failing - despite the appearance of “reporting” on their arms trade - to unveil the value and destination of what the country really transferred internationally in each year. Some countries delay their reports by years and, for example, Australia’s last arms trade report covers export up to 2004!
And, as an explanation, another very important remark:
The fact that an item has been licensed for export does not mean it is exported or will be exported. Data on licenses are not data on trade but on potential trade that may or may not become exports. The value of licenses granted every year is unrelated with what has been exported in that same year because most licenses are valid for two to four years.
The Belgian Defense Minister answers parliamentary questions about helicopters to Madagascar
Soon on Apache (in French and Dutch), more details on the answers given yesterday by the Belgian Minister of Defense Pieter De Crem about keeping on selling army surplus to a company known for exporting it to problematic lands without propre export licenses. We talked about it on this website. So for some background, you can click here, and here. The parliamentary questions could be read here.
The report of the Defense Commission of this Tuesday 10th of July can be read below.
The drone you can see on this picture is Belgian. The Belgian 80 UAV Squadron has 14 operational B-Hunter drones. They flew above Bosnia, the DRC, and the Belgian coast, and are based on an Israeli system.
More information about this soon, as I’m waiting for the army’s authorization to visit the facilities and make a report. In the meantime, I wanted to published a little article with pictures and links, in reaction to this, published in Le Soir, suggesting that the Belgian drones could be used to watch over the border between Rwanda and the DRC. You can also find more information about the Belgian drones here, here, here and here.
Pictures by the author, June 23, 2012, Airshow Florennes, Belgium.
What did the US Department of Defense buy in Belgium in 2011?
On May 18, 2012, the US Department of Defense published its report to Congress on purchases of supplies manufactured outside the United States for the fiscal year 2011. Take a look at the document to see what the Pentagon bought from your country.
Belgium is mentioned 12 times in this report. On the 243,000 actions, worth USD 24 billion*, of purchases in supplies, services, fuel and construction, only 3,000 were made in Belgium, worth USD 73 million (0.3%). The US DoD bought for roughly 30,000,000 USD of equipement made in Belgium.
What equipement did the US DoD buy in Belgium in 2011?
Aircraft Equipement (USD 35,000) ; Missile and Space Systems (USD 950,000) ; Ships (USD 891,000) ; Combat Vehicles (USD 20,400) ; Non-Combat Vehicles (USD 621,000) ; Weapons (USD 25,000,000) ; Ammunition (unspecified) ; Electronics and Communication Equipement (USD 4,300) ; Medical and Dental Supplies Equipement (USD 70,400) ; Others (USD 1,900,000).
Although not specified, the term “weapons” used in this report could refer to small arms and light weapons. If it is the case, then small arms and light weapons account for roughly 83% of the equipement bought by the US DoD in Belgium in 2011. This equipement accounts for roughly 41% of purchases made in Belgium.
*All numbers are rounded.
Special thanks to the website of Philippe Chapleau, where this report was mentioned a while ago.
4 former Belgian army helicopters sold to Madagascar without license: parliamentary question asked
After the publication of this article about 4 former Belgian army helicopters sold to Madagascar without proper licenses, the Belgian parliament member Dirk Van der Maelen is asking two questions to the Belgian Minister of Defense Pieter De Crem. The two questions are:
1. Doesn’t the minister think that it is problematic to keep on selling army helicopters to a company that had a wrong comportment regarding an earlier deal? (The Belgian army sold recently 4 Agusta helicopters to that company, in March 2012)
2. What is the end user for those 4 Agusta helicopters?
The answer should come next week.