Murphy's Law: Why Arms Embargoes Leak


May 11, 2022: As sanctions and arms embargoes against Russia are increased, past evasions of sanctions banning military exports to Russia after the 2014 attacks on Ukraine were revealed. Between 2015 and 2020 EU (European Union) nations exported over $400 million worth of military equipment to Russia. Nearly 80 percent of that came from France and Germany. The rest came from Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Finland, Italy, Slovakia, and Spain. France and Germany pointed out that their exports were justified because the sanctions did not ban supplying dual-use equipment or fulfilling pre-2014 contracts. In other words, it was easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission or clarification. The exports included improved thermal sights for Russian tanks and improved navigation systems and other electronics in combat aircraft and helicopters. Many of these loopholes were noted and closed in the most recent arms embargoes on Russia. This evasion of arms embargoes is nothing new. Finding ways to evade arms embargos goes back decades, with Germany and France being the most frequent culprits.

This was evident since the 1990s, when Western arms embargo against China (because of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre) featured evidence of being more evaded than complied with. Major military exporters like France and Germany led the way. European firms were particularly eager to drop the embargo and some, like France, basically ignored it. This is done most frequently by disregarding the installation of dual-use Western equipment in Chinese weapons systems. Two of the most blatant examples are the use of French Arriel 2C engines (built under license in China) for the Z-9WE helicopter gunship and China being able to purchase over fifty German maritime (for ships) diesel engines and install them in new Chinese subs (that are based on the Russian Kilo, which uses less capable and reliable Russian diesels). Unlike the French, the Germans make an effort to prevent dual use equipment from being exported. But once this stuff is in China the Chinese can, and often do, whatever they want and often they want to modify well engineered Western equipment (like maritime diesels) to suit their military needs. The Chinese had noted that the Russian maritime diesels were not nearly as quiet and reliable as the German ones from MTU. While the Chinese received MTU maritime diesels meant for commercial ships, not subs, the MTU diesels were much better quality and easily modified to work in China’s new subs.

China's Z-9WE helicopter gunship performance is much improved with the Arriel 2C engine, which is only supposed to be used for Chinese civilian helicopters, and has been used for over 300 of them. Earlier models of the Z-9 used Chinese designed and built WZ8A engines and these were not satisfactory. So now China is advertising the use of Arriel 2C engines in its Z-9WE combat helicopters.

This illegal use of Western engines in Chinese military helicopters is not new. Back in 2007 China installed Canadian PT6C-67C engines in its Z-10 helicopter gunship. China shrugs off foreign protests at this, and, partly because of this, European military equipment manufacturers were pushing for a lifting of the embargo.

It’s not just French engines that violate the embargo. The Z-9 is a license-built version of the French AS 365N Dauphin. It's a helicopter with a two-ton payload. China has built over 200 of the Z-9s and many have been armed (with twin 23mm cannon, torpedoes, anti-tank missiles and air-to-air missiles.) The Z-9WE is the export version which is modified to more easily accept Western electronics and weapons. China exported the Z-9WE to at least four other African nations.

Between 2003 and 2013 China has been able to buy over $4 billion worth of military equipment from European suppliers. This is only about three percent (by value) of European exports to China. Many of the weapons or dual-use exports are difficult to spot unless you know what you are looking for, or are able to take Chinese aircraft, warships and armored vehicles apart. That’s because some of the tech is just a computer file of technical specs and data for computer-controlled machine tools to create precision parts for things like engines or weapons. Now there are 3-D printers that make it even easier to create many other components from data found in a computer file that can be emailed. Small electronic and mechanical components also find their way to China, officially marked for use in non-military gear but later showing up in military systems. When queried about this the Chinese tend to ignore the question. If you are one of the world’s largest military and economic powers you can do that.

It wasn’t just China that evaded arms embargoes. In 2013 Russia admitted that in 2011 Sudan secretly bought 24 Mi-24 helicopter gunships and 14 MI-8 transport helicopters. Russia told the UN that Sudan agreed not to use these helicopters in Darfur (western Sudan) where the UN has embargoed (since 2004) the introduction of new weapons. These sanctions have been strengthened year by year and now prohibit selling a lot of “dual use” equipment to Sudan. Despite that, Sudan sought to buy 18 former Indian Su-30K fighters that Belarus had bought cheap to upgrade and resell. Belarus has long been a notorious exporter of weapons to whoever can pay, regardless of embargoes. So is Russia, which also makes more of an effort to justify its actions. Ukraine was also active in smuggling weapons to African nations where UN arms embargoes were regularly ignored. Iran has long exploited the German and French willingness to provide dual-use tech that was known to be easily weaponized.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close