Revitalising Slovakia's arms trade

Slovakia is to withdraw its soldiers from Iraq - the 99 troops will come home in February next year. But Bratislava says it wants to keep good contacts with Baghdad and one reason is that it sells significant quantities of arms and ammunition to Iraq. As Anca Dragu reports from Bratislava, Slovakia's new government has big plans to revitalise its arms industry:

Prime Minister Robert Fico sees no reason why Slovakia should not return to the international arms trade:

"The whole world is involved in the arms trade. I don't see why Slovakia shouldn't be involved in it too. We are prepared to give Afghanistan arms and ammunition from the army's redundant supplies. However, there are also arms that Slovakia wants to sell in Afghanistan."

Under the communist regime, Czechoslovakia used to be an important exporter of weapons, mainly to the Middle East and Africa. A large chunk of the military industrial complex was located in today's Slovakia. After the fall of the Iron Curtain these factories lost their markets and Slovaks tried desperately to re-convert them to civil use. I talked to Roy Isbister an international expert in arms transfer about Slovakia's intention to reactivate its role in the international arms trade:

"I think it's certainly possible that they regain the market, even gain new markets. As the expertise disappears and the actual manufacturing capacity disappears, it's a lot harder to regain market share than it is to retain it. Certainly, Slovakia's arms export capacity was quite large a few years back, inherited from communism times, and it was a lot larger than it is now. It needs to rebuild that expertise and those contacts that it used to have."

On what kinds of markets could Slovakia be active right now?

"That's a complicated one because a lot of the markets, the traditional markets that Slovakia enjoyed, would effectively be closed to Slovakia now that it is a member of the EU and has to comply to the European Union's code. The EU code has rules saying that it shouldn't export arms where they will be used for human rights abuses or to undermine stability."

A few years ago there were some allegations that dodgy deals were done at that time and some weapons from Slovakia ended up somewhere in Africa, violating an embargo. Do you think there is a danger right now that similar things might happen?

"I would hope not. I think that Slovakia has improved its practice in recent years significantly. A lot of the institutional arrangements that existed have changed. There used to be quite a bit of conflict of interests between people who were on the boards of companies, or executives of companies exporting arms and the same people who were sitting in the licensing commission making decisions on whether an arms exports was appropriate or not. There were other rules on re-export that were problematic. It was very easy to bring in stuff from other countries and then send it on to third countries. There was very little control on that. The problem is that in some cases it is very easy to decided whether you should export or not but there are other cases, the marginal cases, countries where you would say that it could be a problem.

"It depends on what you are exporting. In the last few years there have been exports of rockets and combat aircraft to Armenia and the export of main battle tanks to Azerbaijan. Now, at first glance, I have serious doubts about those exports. A lot of rockets were exported to Egypt and to Uganda, both in 2004, artillery systems to Uganda in 2002, jet trainer aircraft to Angola in 2002. Now all of these exports could give cause for concern. Unfortunately, there is very little information - simply that Slovakia authorised the export of some equipment. So, one thing that Slovakia could certainly do is to become more transparent."