Selling arms to a country in conflict - whether internal or external - makes the conflict more deadly and last longer. If there is tension between countries or within a country, arms purchases are likely to increase this tension and make actual conflict more likely.[1]

The aftermath of an Israeli attack on Gaza, December 2008
The aftermath of an Israeli attack on Gaza, December 2008. The UK supplied parts for the planes used in the bombing. Mohammad Rujailah

Even when a conflict has ended, arms, particularly small arms, may remain in large numbers, fuelling further conflicts and/or criminal activity. The casualties of conflict are now overwhelmingly civilian, increasing from around 50% of war-related deaths in the first half of the twentieth century to 90% near the end of the century.[2]

It is often difficult to establish where the arms used in conflicts have originated. However, cases of the use of UK arms in conflict zones include the use

  • by Libya against “rebels” in 2011
  • by Israel in the attack on Gaza in 2009
  • by the Indonesian military in East Timor, Aceh and West Papua
  • by the US in the invasion of Iraq
  • by Zimbabwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • by Argentina in the Falklands War.

The tension between India and Pakistan makes South Asia one of the most volatile regions of the world, yet the UK supplies arms to both countries. UK Government officials and ministers actively promote these sales, with personal interventions and an active presence at arms fairs in both countries.[3]

Of the 16 countries identified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as locations of major armed conflict in 2009, the UK sold arms to 12.[4]


  1. This has, in large part, even been acknowledged by the UK Government. For example, in a September 2008 speech, then Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated that “A key element in helping prevent conflicts, and making them less deadly when they occur, are better controls on arms supplies. Weapons themselves don’t cause wars, but they are the fuel that keeps them burning.” Stohl and Grillot, The International Arms Trade, p.15, state “Studies of conflicts during the past two centuries show that the build-up of arms does not necessarily lead to war, but that almost all wars throughout this period have been preceded by an accumulation of arms by one or more of the parties involved.” They cite Frederic S. Pearson, The Global Spread of Arms: Political Economy of International Security, Westview Press, Oxford, 1994.
  2. see Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military and Social Expenditures 1996, 1996, and the World Bank's Economics of Conflict program.
  3. For example: MoD minister Peter Luff led “a large defence and business delegation to Aero India 2011” (UK in India news release, 3 February 2011); there was a UK delegation to the IDEAS arms fair in Pakistan in 2008 (IDEAS 2010 Brochure) and one planned for the same arms fair in December 2010. The latter was cancelled following the devastating floods in the country that year.
  4. SIPRI, SIPRI Yearbook 2010, Oxford University Press, 2010 and Department for Business Innovation & Skills, Strategic Export Controls Country Pivot Report 2009
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