The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) says allegations by disarmament lobby Ceasefire Campaign that it has broken South African law in approving some defence exports are unfounded.
The Ceasefire Campaign earlier this week said five of the country’s top 10 arms buyers do not satisfy the criteria of the National Conventional Arms Control Act. These countries include the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Colombia, India and Saudi Arabia. According to the NGO’s database South Africa sold weapons and equipment to 58 countries between 2000 and 2009 that failed at least one of the criteria.
Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe, who chairs the NCACC, says the allegations are not breaking any new ground. “Every NCACC transaction is, as a matter of law and practice, subject to a meticulous process of scrutiny and investigation,” he says in comment prvided to defenceWeb by his spokesman Tlali Tlali.
“The committee is satisfied that decisions taken on all transaction, were based on the aggregate consideration of all principals reflected in our law, including our international obligations on arms transfer. No one principle has been considered in isolation of others. South Africa will continue to subscribe to the international agenda of responsible trade in arms.”
The Ceasefire Campaign responded that it appreciated Radebe’s comments. “While it would be helpful if information regarding arms sales could be more readily made public by the Committee, a public debate in the media regarding the application of such criteria and the degree of transparency required is refreshing,” Ceasefire’s Dr Rob Thomson said.
“The ‘new ground’ being broken by the Ceasefire ‘allegations’ is the release to the public of the information that the NCACC has been withholding from it in recent years in contravention of its founding legislation,”he added.
“It is evident from the committee’s statement that the criteria laid down in the Act are not taken seriously. The implication of the statement is that if, for example, weapons sold to Colombia or conveyed to via South Africa to Zimbabwe will fail to meet certain criteria (such as those relating to human rights and internal conflict) but passes others (such as the absence of a UN arms embargo), the committee is quite justified in granting a permit. The Act quite clearly lays down a list of criteria to which every application must conform. It states that the Committee ‘must’ adhere to criteria (a), (b),…, (j) ‘and’ (k), not (a), (b),…, (j) ‘or’ (k).
“Every criterion must therefore be honoured; it cannot be ‘aggregated’ with others. For example, the Committee must “avoid transfers of conventional arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It is illegal for the Committee to ‘aggregate’ that requirement with any other ‘obligations’. If it has accepted any conflicting obligation, that obligation is itself illegal,” Thomson said.
AMD defends NCACC
The South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Association (AMD) has also issued a longer statement on the matter. It says the South African “public has the right to know the facts around defence exports, rather than being fed a mix of speculation and spurious allegations from a lobby group with its own self-interested agenda.”
The industry lobby group says South Africa, for a start, “is globally renowned for its very stringent armaments control policies, procedures and processes. It is, in fact, the only nation in the world where this function is managed at Cabinet level, with elected ministers rather than bureaucrats overseeing the process in the … NCACC. This committee is constituted of several senior cabinet ministers and chaired by … Radebe.
“Moreover, the South African Government has three distinct points of control of defence exports, each of which constitutes a ‘gate’ at which original approvals may be reversed at any time, in the event of a deterioration in the geopolitical or security situation in any destination country to an unacceptable international level. Clearly this imposes a very high risk on defence manufacturers whose investment in an export drive could be prematurely suspended or even terminated entirely.
“No marketing, contracting and subsequent export of military equipment or services occurs without the explicit consent of the NCACC and its mandated oversight organs. Even in the initial stages of exploring a new market, a formal marketing permit must be obtained. This is followed up with a contract permit application to engage in earnest with the securing of an order from abroad, with actual exports blocked until a formal export license is obtained,” the statement says.
“As the representative body for South Africa’s defence industry, AMD places on record that the defence industry fully and unconditionally supports the South African government in its efforts at controlling the trade in armaments. It strives to comprehensively comply with all the provisions of relevant national legislation and international instruments.
“As required by international law, South Africa lodges its relevant reports to the United Nations (UN) register on conventional arms transfers. Furthermore, the oversight role that is ably executed by the relevant committee in Parliament ensures that the people of South Africa would be guaranteed a transparent and responsible system for defence exports remains in place.
“What the public should bear in mind is that like any other industry, defence is highly competitive. For that reason it protects commercially sensitive information, which if made available could be exploited to its detriment by competitors. This should not be construed as ‘cloud of secrecy’. Quite the opposite, the industry readily supplies information, with even the state-owned Denel Group being required to publish a comprehensive annual report, which is publicly available.
“This gives the lie to the Ceasefire Campaign’s assertion that for its report it had ‘to settle on what had been released informally out of court.’ Worse, it is a poor excuse to blame their lack of concrete information on industry annual reports that are ‘bland… as if there are no issues, (while) in an area like this there must be problems’. Such blatant speculation is not only irresponsible but also incompatible with proper academic research,” AMD continues.
“The shallowness of its research is further underlined by its claims that South Africa was selling to states that ‘no one else wants to export to’. This is blatantly untrue as South Africa’s defence industry competes fiercely with European, US, Russian, Israeli and Australian companies in these countries, besides competitors from other developing nations like India, Brazil, Singapore, etc.
“Fact is South Africa’s defence industry has an enviable reputation as a responsible contributor to the country’s economy and a leading supplier of world-class defence equipment. It generates significant revenues and pays taxes, creates innovative high technology products and systems, invests in skills development and is an employer and subcontractor of note.
“It should be a matter of pride for South Africans to know its indigenous defence industry is the envy of many others, including so-called first world nations. We greatly value our partners with whom we do business, regardless of Ceasefire’s vilification of these countries. Our industry and armed forces work closely with many African countries to ensure they are capable of equipping their defence forces, especially as part of the AU’s African Standby Force and for peace support operations.
It is high time the South African populace and civil society positively and genuinely engage with our defence industry in a manner that will optimise this sector’s contribution to the country. Thus we could jointly enhance our own and regional defence and security, whilst speeding up South Africa’s economic recovery.”
Ceasefire’ Thomson said he found the opportunity to engage in public debate in the media on the matter of arms sales to other countries refreshing. But the “ad-hominem allegations in the AMD statement are unfortunate, and are ignored in this response.”
Thomson says the information released by Ceasefire was not a “mix of speculation and spurious allegations”. It was based on information released by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) itself and by data from a wide range of respected international monitoring agencies collated by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC).
“It is interesting that the AMD jumps so avidly to the defence of the NCACC, considering that no allegations were made in Ceasefire’s news release against the defence industry itself. Clearly, if the NCACC approves an application for a licence to a problem destination, the seller is not going to object; in fact it will be encouraged to pursue further sales to that destination. Prima facie, it seems that the reason for the AMD’s defensiveness is that it would hate the NCACC to become more rigorous in the application of the criteria laid down in the Act. Another possible inference would be that the AMD regards the NCACC as part of the broader military–industrial complex. While the defence industry may have problems with delays and bureaucracy at the NCACC, it cannot be seen to be party to the undermining of the so-called ‘defence family’. The alienation of the NCACC from the defence industry would clearly be contrary to the interests of arms manufacturers in South Africa. If the AMD rejects both these possible inferences, it is up to the AMD to explain its defensive reaction,” Thomson says.
“The argument that the NCACC lodges its relevant reports with the United Nations Register of conventional arms transfers is a weak one. It appears to lodge only those reports that it wishes to lodge. For example, only once during the ten-year period reviewed by Ceasefire do the UN reports show an export of missiles or missile systems, and only twice do they show the export of a large-calibre artillery system (in all cases to problem destinations). In only three years are any exports shown to Saudi Arabia. Yet Saudi Arabia received major weapons systems from South Africa in other years too. Similar observations apply to other countries on the Ceasefire ‘problem’ list.
“The ‘defence’ industry likes to portray itself as being ‘like any other industry’. It uses this portrayal to justify the protection of commercial secrets. But the arms industry is not like any other industry. It is for this very reason that conventional arms control legislation exists. States cannot hide behind arguments like this to justify secrecy about arms transfers. The argument that the industry ‘readily supplies information’ is also misleading.
“Denel, for example, refers in a recent annual report to sales of weapons to ‘a middle-eastern country’, which clearly does not wish to be named. The destination of arms sales does not constitute a commercial secret. The AMD states that ‘even’ the state-owned Denel Group has to publish a ‘comprehensive’ annual report. Why ‘even’? Is the AMD surprised that state-owned enterprises should have to disclose such information to the public? Surely a state-owned enterprise such as Denel has an even greater obligation to disclose its information to the public that so generously funds it?
“There is no ‘lie’ in the fact that the SAHA decided to settle on what had been released informally out of court. Perhaps AMD does not believe that SAHA had such a long and arduous struggle to get the NCACC to release its annual reports to the public. One cannot blame it for that. Ceasefire also had not expected it to be such a difficult process. If AMD wants proof, all it needs to do is to ask SAHA. However, the AMD’s argument that the defence industry’s self-proclaimed transparency ‘gives the lie’ to Ceasefire’s assertion suggests that the AMD is confused between the defence industry and the NCACC. It is the lack of transparency of the NCACC that is at issue here.
“The AMD defends the NCACC against Ceasefire’s suggestion that the blandness of the NCACC’s reports denies the existence of any problems or issues in its proceedings. Surely it is because of the very possibility of such problems and issues that the NCACC comprises cabinet ministers? If it did not have to deal with such problems and issues the committee could comprise civil servants. How do the cabinet ministers who are members of the committee justify their time attending its meetings if they do not have to deal with issues of substance there? Proper research does not consist merely in the collection of facts, but also in the analysis of evidence and the critique both of conventional wisdom and of the metanarratives generally used to explain phenomena.
“Ceasefire does not ‘vilify’ countries. It has merely used the analyses of the BICC, a highly respected monitoring agency, which in turn uses numerous other monitoring sources in the compilation of its indices of meeting criteria for arms transfers. A country must meet high standards in numerous areas in order to qualify as a recipient of arms sales. The failure of a country to meet those standards does not make it vile; it merely identifies the areas in which that country must improve in order to qualify for arms transfers,” Thomson says.