Arms trade billions and sanctions: Despots moving beyond censure

Last May, America and Saudi Arabia signed a €95bn arms deal. Britain, one of the European countries selling

Arms trade billions and sanctions: Despots moving beyond censure

Last May, America and Saudi Arabia signed a €95bn arms deal. Britain, one of the European countries selling

hi-tech weaponry to the kingdom, has sold €5.25bn worth of arms since the bombardment of Yemen started in 2015.

That kind of traffic buys a lot of face-time in the corridors of power, as the air fills with talk of sanctions when a despot behaves like a despot — and Saudi Arabia’s putative head of state, Mohammed bin Salman, seemingly has in the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is feared that Khashoggi has joined the 49 journalists killed — according to the International Press Institute — in the first six months of this year. The Committee to Protect Journalists records that 262 journalists are in jail because of their work.

The fate of journalists is an important, but secondary, thread in the growing problem of how autocrats prepared

to silence opposition by murder might be confronted.

You need not be a Henry Kissinger to understand that the character traits needed to become, and survive as, a despot also encourage one to ignore anything but the most extreme sanctions. Mohammed bin Salman has been presented as a leader determined to reform his medieval society, but that impression has not lasted. He has been portrayed as naïve, venal, and bloodthirsty — nearly all part of the job spec for leaders in that ever-troubled region. And, like it or not, the West is culpable in his bloody progress.

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