British Arms Sales Hypocricy

So, the British government is reviewing its arms sales policy to Bahrain and the other Gulf States. The only long term review ever carried out has been to devise ways of selling more, not less, military equipment to the Gulf States.

This time, 24 individual licences and 20 open licences for Bahrain have been revoked and eight individual licences for Libya. The Foreign Office says of course, there’s no evidence UK equipment had been used in the military crackdown on protesters.  Of course not. The fact that British arms and military riot control systems were ever sold to the Middle East states, all of which until recently, were very good at putting down protests is, apparently neither here nor there. But then arms sales money talks and Britain chatters back eagerly.

The Gulf has been the centre-piece of British global arms sales for a quarter of a century – certainly since the opening negotiations for the $billions that the Saudi royal family poured into the al-Yamamah with the UK. If it were not for that single, complex weapons programme, much of the British arms sales production companies, including the all-powerful BAe Systems (in spite of being linked to bribery accusations) would have long ago been in deep trouble.  Moreover, we are not talking a few hundred tear gas canisters.  Just one example puts it all in perspective: an agreement for the UK government to sell 72 Typhoon fighters to Saudi Arabia with accompanying missiles.

Furthermore, this is government to government stuff, not just a few arms salesmen trying to put together a deal.

Arms sales to the region are pushed by the UK government arms sales department, the Defence & Security Organization.  Furthermore, Britain has a phalanx of British sales advisory teams supported by  the British military and once sales are in place, the training and support teams include ex-Service personnel.

Ludicrously, the secretive and arrogant British Ministry of Defence says it does not have any up to date information on the advisory and training role of the British military.  That is either an out and out fib, or utter incompetence.  Either accusation fits the record and today style of the Defence Ministry in Whitehall.

It does not stop at the Gulf.  The British also supply Libya.  The Libyan state security apparatus does not look for the maker’s name on any weaponry, including cannisters and ammunition, before deploying and using it.

Maybe all this could be discussed this weekend at the annual IDEX arms sales exhibition in the UAE. The British are proud that ten percent of the exhibitors at IDEX will be from UK organizations supported by Whitehall teams.  Of course, there are strict rules about arms sales export licences. They must not be used in an inhuman way – there’s a Philosophy MA dissertation somewhere there.  But the arms salesmen need have no worries about licences.  During 2010, no licence applications – including those to Egypt, Libya and Algeria – were turned down.

When the government says it has to review arms sales, that too is obfuscation: it knows perfectly well what has been delivered into the area.  To say that equipment from UK arms sales teams must not include anything to suppress the people, then what does the UK government think that the Bahrainis, for example, would otherwise do with CS canisters and rubber bullets – hardly paint-balling gear.

There’s no point in demanding that Britain pulls out of the global arms trade. Moreover, in some cases, sales to overseas buyers mean that British forces can get some of the equipment it needs. What would be OK, is that the British Foreign Secretary and his office, would spare us the hand-ringing. The surprised look does not work. The real world is that British arms salesmen will sell to anyone. The only check is when the weapons include American technology – then it’s the US that stops the UK from on-selling anything that can be fired. Sometimes of course, the firing ricochets back.

Go back just thirty years: the British government sold British-built and armed Type 42 destroyers to a third country and showed that country’s Navy how best to use them. That lucrative sale was made to Argentina. The year 1982.


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