The UK is one the world’s leading arms exporters. The UK arms industry employs 100,000 people and turns over around £22 billion a year, £8.8 billion of that in exports.The UK is the sixth biggest exporter of arms in the world.Many may be pleased that we still have one successful industry left in this country, it is great that we are doing well in exporting arms and the government should do all it can to encourage this to provide jobs and investment.It could be argued that though many find the trade distasteful, the reality is that if we don’t do it someone else will (I think the French also competed to sell fighter jets to UAE) so we only shoot ourselves in the foot if we don’t become a big player. It would probably be naive to think a jet factory can suddenly switch production to mobility scooters or electric bicycles or other “ethical products.”
It is obvious though that arms dealers ought to have a higher moral code than those who export handbags.The current Coalition Government has made some dubious decisions which really cannot bear close scrutiny.It has issued 3000 export licenses, worth £12.3 billion, to states which are known to be repressive and tyrannical such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Belarus, Somalia and Zimbabwe.Ironically,many of these feature prominently on the Foreign Office’s list of states with worrying civil rights records. A July 2013 report even found there had been 62 licenses granted to sell military equipment to Iran. There were an incredible 271 licenses granted to sell biotechnology equipment, sniper rifles, laser weapons systems, weapon sights and drones to Russia. It is known by our government that both states are arming the Assad regime in Syria, thus we are guilty of indirectly arming Syria.While William Hague appears on all media channels condemning the uses of chemical weapons by Syria, he has been simultaneously supporting the sale of such weapons to states across the globe, including Syria. To call it hypocritical doesn’t even come close.
At a show last week, the comedian and political activist, Mark Thomas, brought to the audience’s attention the fact that every two years an Arms Fair is held in East London. It lasts a week, is host to,400 international weapons companies, and nearly 30,000 buyers and sellers attend the event. Mark Thomas was vehement in his opposition to this event which maintains its prestige by issuing invites, accommodation and hospitality to known human right abusers and war criminals.The way it seems to work is thus:- our arms salesmen bribe a repressive regime to buy our weapons, the UK Gov’s Department for Export Credits underwrites the deal, the makers ship the weapons, the salesmen get massive commission, the repressive regime probably won’t pay, Dept for Export Credits reimburses the maker with UK taxpayers’ money. It certainly seems that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, we’re not just equipping tyranny but subsidising it.
As an example of the corruption which goes on in the UK Arms Trade, one need look no further than British Aerospace which is the world’s third largest arms producer. BAE’s arms are sold indiscriminately around the world. The Campaign Against Arms Trade details on its website:”A notorious recent deal was the sale of 200 Tactica armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. These vehicles were used by Saudi troops helping to suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in March 2011. In 2004, following compelling evidence in the media, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office began investigating BAE deals with numerous countries including Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tanzania and the Czech Republic. Tony Blair intervened to stoop the investigation on the pivotal Saudi case. BAE are still under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office but last week it was announced that identities of prosecution witnesses in a case against BAE Systems were among thousands of documents lost by the UK’s anti-fraud squad. Convenient, hey?