First of all, it is important to say that France is the third largest arms exporter in the world, after the United States and Russia. Since 2012, France has delivered more than 24.6 billion euros worth of arms around the world. Its best client is Egypt, which received 25% of French arms exports over the period 2013-2017, despite the decision of the European Union to suspend arms sales to the dictatorial regime of General al-Sisi.

Military expenditure is the second largest expense item of the French State, after education and far ahead of the environment or employment. A significant part of this budget is spent on the purchase of new weapons. Arms merchants also benefit from public support for research, particularly via European Union Funds.
This is the case everywhere, but since contracts are usually accompanied by technology transfers, they have enabled more and more countries to develop armament industries. China now manufactures and exports its own helicopters thanks to the know-how acquired with the production of Aerospatial (now Airbus) helicopters in the 80s, Saudi Arabia has just announced the creation of its own company: Saudi Arabian Military Industries, and Naval Group is training Brazilians to construct its submarines.

In terms of resistance to the arms trade and militarisation, in France there has been a long resistance to nuclear weapons, however conventional weapons are only recently being considered. There is growing research on France’s role in the global arms industry and human rights organisations are now speaking out about arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt primarily. Mainstream media however is very reluctant to put forward any critiques of the arms industry and no political parties are openly against arms sales to human rights abusing regimes.

In France, the systems of control and monitoring of weapons sales are limited. For the Arms Trade Treaty for example, it is up to the countries themselves to evaluate whether or not they contravene the rules of the arms treaty. At this point, for the terms to be actually applied, the ATT would need to be transposed into the internal legal order (reform of the exportation rules, including respect for international law), but France has not envisaged this. The meetings between the government and NGOs stopped in 2013, with the arrival of Le Drian, the Minister of Defence under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and current Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

In France, the monitoring system differs according to the types of equipment supplied. For weapons of war, there is a commission (the Interministerial Commission on the Study of war equipment exportations, CIEEMG in French) which combines the Ministries for Foreign Affairs, Defence, Economy and Finance, and the services of the Prime Minister.

It is the Prime Minister who has the final say, after receiving advice from the Commission, and for large contracts it is often the President of the Republic. The military equipment may not necessarily be lethal, the VAB armoured tanks, for example, form part of the same category as certain parts and components specifically designed to be military equipment, such as bullet resistant tyres.
Others include non-specific pieces of equipment which can be adapted for military use; these form part of the dual-use category. According to the current system, the Ministries of Defence, Interior, and Foreign Affairs offer advice about their suitability.
This is the same approach for firearms, munitions for civil use and explosive materials.
Whilst a transparent approach exists for military equipment (“Report to Parliament on Arms Exports”), there is no information on the police and security equipment which are processed in other exportation systems (either for dual use or civilian arms).

There is an annual parliamentary report on arms sales but it is incomplete and often published late. There is no information at all on the quantities or the exact type of equipment which are included in the contracts, such as the name of the manufacturer. The only information offered is the global amounts of the contracts according to their destination and the number of licences granted. It is therefore impossible to carry out checks.

Other reports also exist such as the annual report submitted by France to the secretariat of the ATT and to the UN registry on conventional arms. These reports contain details which do not appear in the parliamentary report such as the quantity of equipment supplied but it merely refers to heavy armaments (helicopters, artillery, armoured vehicles, fighter jets...) and light arms to comply with the transparency rules of the ATT. The transfer of munitions (except guided missiles as these are more complex than shells), equipment used for torture, and law and order enforcement are not included either.

All of this creates an environment in which it is difficult to oppose arms sales, due to lack of information and support, but we remain optimistic that progress is possible.