logo Stop Fuelling War

our blog

Interview with Classe Internationale from La Sorbonne

Sign up


 At the beginning of 2020, Stop Fuelling War approached students of the student association Classe Internationale at La Sorbonne university in Paris. We had originally planned to have a seminar on French arms trade and it's impacts at the university with the same people who participated in this interview, but as with many events this year it had to be cancelled. 

Instead, all participants were interviewed, with the same seven questions and then each individual had three questions unique to them. The result of these interviews was an article published in French on Classe Internationale, which an online news magazine, published by the students (by following this link):  " Arms export: what position for France" 

 We have included in this blog post the full set of questions and answers that was given by Holly to the student association, in English, for your reading. 


1) Can you introduce yourself in a few words? What is your area of expertise in the global arms trade?
My name is Holly Spencer and I work for both a NGO called Stop Fuelling War – Cessez d’alimenter la guerre - and a peacebuilding organisation. I studied International Relations and Development, and I have a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from the University of Sussex, UK.

Stop Fuelling War is an organisation that seeks to raise awareness about the damage and excesses of the arms industry, as well as promoting an alternative vision of security that does not rely heavily on militarisation. Working on both the arms trade and peacebuilding has opened my eyes to the fact that all European governments' financial support for their national arms industries and trade vastly outweighs their peacebuilding initiatives.

2)What do you think of this quote from Végèce : "If you want peace, prepare for war"?

I think this quote is misleading and incorrect. History shows that an increase in military spending,accompanied by threatening postures have increased tensions rather than reduce them. Historians agree that the military build-up on both sides was one of the main causes of the First World War. It is also clear that German military build-up also led to WW2. The arms race has never ensured peace. More recently, if you look at the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea or Iran, it is clear that the direct impact of developing weapons of mass
destruction has led to mistrust and tension regional and global levels. Since North Korea withdrew from the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, the international community (including the United States, France and other big military powers) has been unable to prevent North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction. Any strategy involving an open conflict (“prépare la guerre”) had to cope with the fact that Seoul, the South Korean capital, is only 30 seconds away from a north Korean missile. Even the United States’ military, which is far more powerful than that of North Korea (the United States boasts the biggest military, according to SIPRI), cannot ignore the consequences of such a threat to an ally whose capital city has almost 10 million inhabitants (in 2019). In January 2018, Kim Jong-Un announced that its country was now able to reach not only South Korea, Japan, but also the US mainland with nuclear weapons, threatening the regional and global stability. There are many examples of military interventions in countries designed to prevent further violence but which in fact increased the threats, the US military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq being examples of this erroneous policy. “By over-sourcing our militaries and under-sourcing other sectors, like diplomacy, aid and collaborative efforts to counter climate change we are failing to address today’s real threats to human security. And because of this imbalance, the military is used to engage in situations for which it is not actually well-suited like the public health response to Ebola.”(Indefensible, Paul Holden et al p. 3)

With the onset of the current Covid-19 crisis, we can see how woefully unprepared countries with large military spending, such as the UK, France or the US, have been to deal with this emergency: faced with this reality, we must consider what threats are we actually being protected from?
The coronavirus epidemic has shown that the importance of rethinking the role of arms exports in the the government's strategy. The health emergency in France has revealed the weakness of the budget devoted to the health of French people. While South Korea, seen as a model for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to cut its annual defence budget in order to give priority to health spending, no such announcement was made in France. There is an urgent need to reinvest money in national health needs rather than arms.
During the confinement, the French police, in charge of checking citizens' movement certificates, was challenged by the NGO Amnesty France. Illegal and extremely violent practices are reported to have been committed by members of the security forces. Some videos show the dangerous use of tasers, for example. The use of this type of weapon must be carried out in a specific context and not against the population. This repressive approach by law enforcement agencies cannot be defended by a government that claims the security of its population is its priority. The health crisis cannot allow such disproportionate use of violence and the government has a duty to communicate on the subject and impose sanctions on the law enforcement officials concerned in order to maintain the bond of trust between the population and the police. Peacebuilding encompasses so much more than
just building clinics and supporting local development projects .
Building lasting peace entails fostering justice, equality and protecting human rights. There are so many successful examples of practical work worldwide in the areas of early warning and early intervention, election monitoring, civilian peace monitoring, arms embargoes, reconciliation measures, restorative justice, stakeholder dialogue, community mediations, to name but a few methods. The tools and best practice already exist, with many organisations, and even a few governments, supporting this kind of work. Successful local peacebuilding is often carried out at local grassroots levels but are not reported by the media. If governments are serious about wanting peace, they must dedicate funding for conflict prevention, far more than is currently being spent on this issue.

We can look at building peace on several levels. There is local peacebuilding where outstanding individuals, groups and communities are working to prevent violence in their communities. History has taught us that once violence is committed, it will lead to an ever-increasing spiral of conflict and revenge. Peacebuilding can also be implemented at a national level using peace processes or national processes for truth and reconciliation: these must be inclusive of all sides in a conflict so existing tensions are resolved and not exacerebated.
Multilateralism is another tool at our disposal; there are effective legal frameworks that can be deployed and mechanisms with which to hold states accountable for their actions, such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held under the auspices of the Human Rights Council. When a localised conflict is not resolved,the grievances are multiplied and larger
scale war is likely to break out if efforts are not made to reduce tensions and address the underlying causes of the original conflict. Ex-combatants need to be supported in their reintegration into society, trust built and justice sought. “The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the leading provider of statistics on political violence, has identified 259 distinct armed conflicts since 1946. This includes all organized military conflict over government or territory involving one or more state government(s) and causing at least 25 battle-related fatalities in a year. Several conflicts may take place in a single country, involving different sets of actors engaged in a deadly contest with the state. Of these 259 conflicts, 159 recurred and 100 involved a new group or incompatibility. 135 different countries experienced conflict recurrence. 68 were minor conflicts and 24 were wars. Around 60% of conflicts recur. The median duration of post-conflict peace spells was seven years.” (Gates, Nygård, Trappeniers, Conflict Recurrence, Conflict Trends 2016:2 from PRIO)i

In post-conflict situations, there are several reasons for which reintegration of ex-combatants, as well as displaced populations, are important considerations in order to achieve a sustainable peace. If these are ignored they can exacerbate the risk of conflict recurrence. Other contributing factors include the absence of a functioning state and legal system, lack of economic opportunities, competition for natural resources, political marginalisation and the absence of appropriate conflict management systems, and the availability of light weapons.
[Kingma & Grebrewold (1998: 12)https://www.prio.org/utility/DownloadFile.ashx?id=9&type=publicationfile

The case of South Sudan provides an counter example to the spurious claim that 'more military power and arms means increased security'. When the country became independent,arms purchases were justified on the pretext of countering the belligerent actions of its neighbour, Sudan. However, in the subsequent civil war - the weapons were used against its own population of South Sudan.ii

3) France is the third largest arms exporter in the world. What have been the determinants of French interest in the arms trade? What do you think of France's place in the global arms trade?

According to the Global Peace Index report of 2019 : “[… ] by total export value, just five countries account for over 75 per cent of total weapons exports: the US, Russia, Germany, France, and China”iii
This is unacceptable behaviour for a country that was the birthplace of human rights.

France needs to export in order to fund the development of its capacity to to support its own military. Increased global arms trade competition means that countries like France which relies on exports, have to ensure huge support for their arms industries in order to maximise exports. Moreover, they are also unable to be selective about their buyers.

4) Official French discourse explain that, as far as they know, the weapons sold by France are not used against civilian populations. Is it technically possible to know in what context a weapon is used?

Where weapons finally end up is impossible to control : guns, ammunition or assault vehicles (to name only a few) which were sold 20 years ago can end up in unscrupulous hands and used against civilians: moreover, we already knowingly sell weapons to countries where they are currently being used against civilians. Diversion of weapons is impossible to stop in conflict situations: we have seen this happen with ISIS which captured arms originally sold to the then-legitimate Iraqi government ]. This is only one example among many and we will
surely see it happen again and again in the future. Europe did not learn the lessons of the arms used in the former Yugoslav war ending up on the arms black market.

Saudi Arabia is one of France’s biggest clients, according to data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); an investigation by Disclose, published in 2019, showed that the French state was aware at the time that Leclerc tanks were to be used in the war in Yemen, which has had many civilian deaths. The Saudi-led coalition is heavily focussed on air raids, with the Thales-made Damocles Pod, used on warplanes to guide missiles, is (according to the Disclose investigation), being also used in Yemen. The Mirage 2000-9 has been used by the Saudi ally, the United Arab Emirates. iv
France and many other European countries have been complicit in the war in Yemen, which is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world , with civilian targets, such as hospitals, schools, farms being bombed, leaving 7 million people at risk of famine. In Yemen, 104,145 people have been directly killed by the conflict, and a further 131,000 have been killed by famine and disease caused by the conflict.

Egypt is also one of France’s largest customers when it comes to weapons imports. Whilst the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council stated on 21 August 2013 that: "Member States have decided to suspend licences for the export to Egypt of all equipment that could be used for internal repression", at least eight French companies - encouraged by successive governments - have on the contrary taken advantage of this repression to reap record profits. Between 2010 and 2016, French arms deliveries to Egypt rose from 39.6 million to 1.3 billion euros.

Some companies have sold conventional weapons to an army responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the name of the war on terrorism, notably in the Sinai: Mistral warships (DCNS); Fremm frigates (DCNS); corvettes (Gowind); Rafale combat aircraft; armoured vehicles (Arquus); Mica air-to-air and SCALP cruise missiles (MBDA); 2ASM air-to-ground missiles (SAGEM). Other French companies have sold armoured vehicles (200 Renault Trucks Defense sold between 2012 and 2014) and machine tools for manufacturing cartridges (Manurhin) to police services who no longer hesitate to disperse demonstrations with machine guns.
Do we need to seen history repeat itself, as in the Gulf War in 1991 where French weapons were used against its own army, to realise that the exportation of weapons causes more insecurity?

5) In your opinion, does the Eurosatory exhibition that was to be held in June in Paris have a symbolic role of exposing power or is it a "market" that plays a determining role in the sales volumes of the French defence and strategy industries?

When we are not in a global health crisis, Eurosatory takes place every two years in Paris, and is presented as a the world's largest arms fair. It includes all land and air-land defence and security manufacturers, which present the latest developments in the field of trends and technological innovations in the field of weapons and war material: tanks, combat helicopters, firearms, fire, knives, grenades, missiles...
More than 200 official delegations are also there to talk with arms dealers and discuss the needs of their armies. Eurosatory is intended to be a pleasant moment for arms dealers and the delegations, who meet around cocktails to discuss missiles and crowd control tools. A large gala evening is also organized in luxurious places (Louvre, Musée des arts forains ...). Costly festivities - many peace projects could be financed with the budget spent to entertain the manufacturers of armament.
One really important issue for all large arms exporters is the opportunities offered for corrupt deals to be made because of the lack of transparency, using so-called offsets. Corruption Watch has identified the role of both offsets (economic/industrial, economic investment that often claim to exceed the cost of the arms contract to that country – they are banned as procurement criteria by the World Trade Organisation in all sectors except defence) and intermediaries in arms trade corruption. It is widely acknowledged that arms deals are often corrupt by using offsets, as well as payoffs for intermediaries. In 2015, India agreed to buy 36 Rafale jets from France for €7.8 BN instead of €5.2 BN estimated as the correct cost by the Indian Ministry of Defence. No one can explain why there is such a big price difference.

At events like Eurosatory, and in the normal course of their work, arms producers have a close relationship with government officials, and enjoy subsidies and favourable export rules denied to other industries.“Arms deals can be hugely burdensome on the taxpayers of both the selling and buying countries, and they often maintain an apparatus of secrecy and depression as well. A lot of effort goes into packaging these transactions as something other than what they are.“ Paul Holden et Al, p.1

6) What do you think of this statement that often comes up in the arguments used in France: "If France didn't sell arms, another State would"? In your opinion, is the arms trade a trade like any other, subject to the same rules of competition?

France says that we have a robust export licencing system when it comes to selling arms but these are hard to justify when France continues to sell to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and countries where there is strong evidence that they are directly targeting civilians, or violating human rights. Although there are robust legal systems in place for checking arms sales, such as the Arms Trade Treaty or the European Common Position, it is down to the states themselves to judge whether or not they are respecting these treaties. France ratified the Arms Trade Treaty of 2013, which prohibits States Parties to export weapons if, at the moment of authorising the export, it knows that these arms could be used to commit a genocide, crimes against humanity, severe violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions or any attack targeting civilians or civilian goods (article 6.3) ….
The European Common Position 2008/944/PESC – which is binding on France – contains the same principle of precaution. Arms sales to countries at war or to repressive regimes are therefore most likely illegal under these laws. The French government also says that the we have a robust check and balance system for exports, but there is no parliamentary control, such as exists in the UK,. Whilst this has had limited success at least British deputies can question the role of the state. Where does such a democratic control exist in France?
The executive branch decides alone, without control by Parliament or civil society. A report on France's arms sales is sent to French MPs every year. The information provided is vague, the figures aggregated, and there is no debate on this document. The French government says that we can influence countries that we sell weapons to, but in fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Since France is selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and can claim to exert its influence, then why is Saudi Arabia continuing to bomb civilians with impunity?
French weapons are possibly being used in cases where these actions could be considered war crimes, according to the Geneva Conventions. With the transfer of technology and the increasing competition between states selling weapons, it appears that France is now more dependent on exports to fund its own national defence. So instead of being an arms
seller who is able to influence their clients, as is claimed, they do everything possible to win contracts, using such tactics as offset payments and the transfer of sophisticated and dangerous technologies.

7) What do you think of the importance that France gives to non-violent methods of conflict resolution?

Ensuring the security of its people is an important duty of any society, but governments tend to interpret the concept in a limited fashion. Many major security risks encompass more than countering just the threat of external physical violence, for example, the widespread issue of internal structural violence. The threat of physical violence is often caused by long term underlying problems such as increasing economic inequality, political exclusion or even climate change anda lack of access to resources. According to Rethinking Security, “Real security exists when everyone can meet their basic needs; it is in the public interest. But the prevailing approach today is based on ‘national interests’, defined by the government, and skewed towards big business and a small social elite, rather than people in their communities.”

As an organisation, we do not have all the answers. However, there is a wealth of information and research, about effective non-violent intervention strategies and tools. We, as a society or global community, know enough to be able to do better. France’s foreign policy is quite aggressive and focusses mainly on sub-Saharan Africa and ex-colonies. The French government has a strategy when it comes to conflict prevention, but the amounts of investment are not comparable with the French military spending. Moreover, much of the former is focussed on development policies and not real peacebuilding initiatives.
And the French military are of course, also involved in UN peacekeeping missions. French UN peacekeepers are currently deployed in 6 missions. Research has shown that the presence of UN peacekeepers has helped to prevent the conflict recurrence by up to 75%. However, this is a short-term solution that does not address the root causes of any given conflict. Without this, sustainable peace cannot be achieved. As soon as the external peacekeepers are withdrawn, violence will flare up once more. France’s foreign policy is quite aggressive and focusses mainly on sub-Saharan Africa and ex-colonies.

The common consensus in the peacebuilding world seems to be that without addressing the root causes of violence, armed conflict is inevitable. So why do we continue to spend billions on weapons and arms trade and yet we do not invest even relatively limited amounts in peacebuilding and prevention? It is like putting a tiny bandage over a gaping wound and telling that person that we have the means to deal with their pain, but we think we would be naïve to use them.

And now these questions were specific to Holly, as a staff member of Stop Fuelling War:

1) In France, arms exports fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the government, which authorises or refuses them. Why is an NGO interested in this issue?

Very few export requests are refused; in 2016, nearly 99% of requests for arms exports to France were approved. The executive branch decides alone, without control by Parliament or civil society. A report on France's arms sales is sent to French MPs every year. The information provided is vague, the figures aggregated, and there is no debate on this document.
On 7 May 2020, the Association of Journalists of Defence denounced the lack of transparency, the lies and the pressure they are under from the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. This press release warned of the growing opacity of information in the current context and especially on the French arms trade. The same goes for the Parliament, which was refused on 28 April 2020 the disclosure of the level of availability of the armed forces' equipment. This information, now classified as confidential, had nevertheless been communicated publicly since 2013.
The refusal to inform the press on the one hand and the Parliament on the other is evidence of a tightening of the government's stance with regard to this issue of French armaments.
Similarly, the Ministry of the Armed Forces has been singled out for its lack of transparency regarding the progression of coronavirus within its members. The numerous cases of contamination of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and the many questions surrounding the Wuhan Military World Championships in October 2019 highlight the lack of communication from the Ministry of the Armed Forces on the health situation within the institution. There is an urgent need to establish a transparent dialogue between the Ministry of the Armed
Forces, Parliament, journalists and the French population. As mentioned previously, there are international rules that regulate the arms trade – the Arms Trade Treaty and the Common Position 2008/944/PESC. However, France does not respect these rules although it is a signatory. That is why NGOs have to step in.
We also want to provide an alternative vision of security. The current vision of security put forward by the French state is severely limited and flawed.

As citizens of several European countries here at Stop Fuelling War, including France, we have a vested interest in understanding how our taxes are being spent. In a democracy, the government is ultimately responsible to its citizens.

2) Based on your experience in terms of raising the French public's awareness of the arms trade, to what extent is public opinion interested in this subject?

There is a growing interest in this subject. When asked, 75% of French people are opposed to arms sales to Yemen and 88% believe that France should stop arms exports to countries that risk using them against civilian populations (according to a YouGov opinion poll carried out for SumOfUs, 2018).
As mentioned previously, the Disclose report on the use of French weapons in Yemen and the French government’s complicity in the war and its resulting humanitarian crisis has signalled a shift in public perception. Many French NGOs such as Amnesty International, Action contre la Faim, ASER and others, are concerned about the role of the French state in arming dictators and being complicit in human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, public debate is still limited and arms sales are often reported in the media as laudable economic accomplishments, with little questioning of the current security paradigm. Yet, in a democracy, the government is ultimately responsible to its citizens.

3)According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military spending in 2018 will amount to $1.82 trillion. At this time of international health crisis, what do you think of the scale of this spending?

It is completely morally unjustifiable. The NGO World Beyond War has calculated that it would cost around US$30 billion per year to end starvation around the world and about US$11 billion per year to give everyone access to clean water. What is stopping us from shifting our priorities and addressing the root causes of conflict, to focuss on a comprehensive
human security to ensure freedom from want and the ability to live in dignity, than squandering money on military security which did not protect us against the current health crisis?

As previously mentioned, the risks that we face as a nation and as humanity are changing; in the first few months of 2020 alone, we have seen locusts swarming, severe floods, typhoons, wildfires in Australia and the USA, the current coronavirus 19, without forgetting one of the biggest threats of all : climate change This alone will ruin millions of lives and continue to damage countless ecosystems in the coming years: “An estimated 971 million people live in areas with high or very high climate change exposure. Of this number, 400 million (41 per cent) reside in countries which already have low levels of peacefulness. Climate change can indirectly increase the likelihood of violent conflict through its impacts on resource availability, livelihood, security and migration. In order to address these challenges, there will need to be much greater cooperation both within and between countries.” (Global Peace Index, 2019)v
Yet the arms industry seems to be exempt from environmental pressures to reduce pollution. For example, the European arms industries were initially exempt from European environmental standards under REACH. But this special treatment has been revoked and the French Navy now deplores the costs involved in bringing them back up to standard. The armament industry was exempt from international environmental protocols such as Kyoto thanks to extensive lobbying by the sector. The Paris Accords were intended to be an environmental agreement that applied to the arms industry. But now that President Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the agreement (and that it is the biggest polluter
with its arms industry), one wonders what effect this will have for the future of the armaments industry and pollution?

C. Touzot-Fadel, 2018, explains that it is the " imperious " nature of defence and armaments activities that enables them to obtain exemptions from ordinary law, including when it comes to decisions to preserve the environment and provide responses to the global climate crisis.vi
France faces no serious risk of a conventional military attack. There is no prospect of such an attack from Russia; NATO outspends Russia’s military spendingby a factor of 12.


Gates, Nygård, Trappeniers, Conflict Recurrence, Conflict Trends 2016:2 from PRIO,

C. Touzot-Fadel, Activités militaires et protection de
l’environnement, thèse pour le doctorat en droit, Université de
Limoges, 2018

“Indefensible – Seven Myths that sustain the global arms trade”
– Paul Holden et al, Zed Books, 2016, p.3

Global Peace Index report 2019, p.31


Global Peace Index report 2019, p.3

C. Touzot-Fadel, Activités militaires et protection de
l’environnement, thèse pour le doctorat en droit, Université de
Limoges, 2018


Headquarters : Centre Quaker International
114 rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
Association loi de 1901 No. W751238358


facebook   twitter