We are one arm of an international movement to challenge the status quo of more weapons makes more peace and the movement to rethink security. see ‘What’s the alternative?’ section

The situation of arms sales and France
First of all, it is important to highlight 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 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. The recent creation of the European Defence Fund will greatly increase the subsidies.

Arms contracts are usually accompanied by technology transfers, which have enabled increasing numbers of countries to develop their own armaments industries. For example, China now manufactures and exports its own helicopters, thanks to the expertise acquired during the production of Aerospatial (now Airbus) helicopters in the 1980s; Saudi Arabia has announced the creation of its own weapons company, Saudi Arabian Military Industries.

In terms of the arms trade and militarisation in France, there have long been objections to nuclear weapons. However, opposition to conventional weapons sales is 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 against arms sales, primarily to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mainstream media, however, are very reluctant to express any criticism of the arms industry and no political party is openly against arms sales, even to well-publicised human rights-abusing regimes.

In France, the systems of control and monitoring weapons sales are limited in scope. In the case of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)
for example, it is up to the countries themselves to evaluate whether or not they contravene the rules of the arms treaty. At present, for the terms to be applied, the ATT would need to be incorporated into the internal legal order (reform of the exportation rules, including respect for international law), but France has not yet enacted 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 for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

French monitoring systems differ according to the types of equipment supplied. For weapons of war, there is a commission (the Inter-ministerial Commission on the Study of War Equipment Exportations, CIEEMG in French) which combines the Ministries of 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. Certain military equipment may not classified as lethal weapons; for example, VAB armoured tanks, although they form part of the same category as certain spare parts and components specifically designated as 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 same approach is applied to firearms, munitions for civil use and explosive materials.
Whilst a semi-transparent approach exists for military equipment (‘Report to Parliament on Arms Exports’), there is no information on police and security equipment which are processed by 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 amount 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 Register of Conventional Arms. These contain details, which do not appear in the parliamentary report, such as the quantity of equipment supplied. However, it merely refers to heavy armaments (helicopters, artillery, armoured vehicles, fighter jets...) and light arms in order to comply with the transparency rules of the ATT. The transfer of munitions (except guided missiles since these are more complex than shells), equipment used for torture, and law and order enforcement supplies are not included.

This lack of transparency and information creates an environment which undermines efforts to challenge and oppose arms sales. Nonetheless, we remain optimistic that increasing accountability is possible.