Views from the watchtower
The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have an unenviable job: protecting Lebanon from the waves of violence lapping at its Syrian border, as Isis and al-Qaeda’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra battle Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters. A strong national army is also needed internally to counterbalance Hezbollah, the militia-turned-political party that is by some estimates stronger than the LAF itself.
To help counter these threats the US, UK and Saudi Arabia have been pouring money into the country’s inadequate military. The LAF is woefully under-equipped and ill prepared to handle sustained border incursions by jihadist groups while simultaneously tackling internal attacks such as car bombings.
Since 2013 the UK has donated equipment worth €14.2m, including 164 Land Rovers and 12 border watchtowers, to bolster the army’s border presence. The US has also upped its contributions: in 2015, €136m in aid has been pledged on top of the €68m a year from its Foreign Military Financing budget that Beirut has been receiving since 2011. Given Lebanon’s domestic military budget was €1.1bn in 2012 – the last time figures were released – the additional investment should make a difference.
According to Aram Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the assistance is paying off. “[The LAF is] improving on a quarterly basis in terms of integrating systems and training,” he says. “[It is] much more capable, more confident. This would not have been possible without support from the UK or the US. Morale is high and this is showing real effects on the battlefield.”
But the western aid is dwarfed by Saudi Arabia’s investment in Lebanon, which is aimed at undermining Hezbollah and thus curbing Iran’s influence in the Levant. This year the kingdom is funding a €2.7bn French arms deal on top of €900m in security-related aid committed in 2014.
Russia could help modernise Slovakia’s military, despite tensions between Moscow and Nato. Bratislava has invited Russian bids to upgrade its s-300 missile systems, Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jets and Mil Mi-17 helicopters even though Nato, which Slovakia joined in 2004, has discouraged members from awarding military contracts to Russian firms since Moscow intervened in Ukraine.
However, Michal Simecka of the Institute of International Relations in Prague doubts Bratislava wants to deepen co-operation with Moscow. The decision was a tactic “to placate pro-Russian domestic political constituencies and vested interests in the Slovak arms industry”.
Other Nato states that bought arms from Russia:
Mil Mi-17-1v helicopters, delivered in 2011.
Mil Mi-8 helicopters, delivered in 2014.
Czech Republic and Croatia
Mi-17sh and Mi-171sh helicopters respectively, delivered between 2005 and 2008.
Friends in need
Forty years after the fall of Saigon, the US is considering lifting its ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam because of a dispute in the South China Sea between China and its neighbours, including Vietnam. Geography, it seems, trumps history.
China’s ambitions are leading both the US and its former enemy to rethink their relationship. Vietnamese general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong recently met Barack Obama at the White House; a return visit by the US president is possible.
Vietnam wants to replace its ageing Mig-21s with new fighters and is also looking for an armed long-range maritime patrol aircraft for anti-submarine warfare.
Proverbially peaceable Sweden is, in fact, the world’s 12th-biggest supplier of arms. But its parliament has now suggested the country should be fussier about who it sells weapons to.
A proposal for a human-rights link to arms exports follows Sweden’s cancellation of a defence agreement with Saudi Arabia, which led to a huffy withdrawal of Riyadh’s man in Stockholm.
“About 20 per cent of Swedish arms exports go to countries that are clearly undemocratic,” says Samuel Perlo-Freeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The proposed law isn’t absolute. Possible customers’ failings will be weighed against domestic security; Sweden’s defence industry has to stay in business to make arms for Sweden too. But it is a potentially powerful statement that, says Perlo-Freeman, may “have a norm-setting effect”.