The arms trade exists to provide weapons to those who can pay for them. What the buyers do with the arms, what political approval the sales signify, and how the money could have been better spent appear irrelevant to the arms companies and their governments.
Human rights abuses are facilitated by arms sales in three main ways:
- They can be used to carry out human rights abuses directly;
- The arms sales increase the military authority of governments and their capacity for abuses;
- The sales convey a message of international acceptance and approval.
UK arms buyers on the Foreign Office’s list of countries with “the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns”
The UK Government’s 2010 Human Rights Annual Report identified 26 “countries of concern”. In that year, the UK approved arms export licences to 16 of these including Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been the focus of UK arms promotion since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979.
The impact of arms sales was evident in the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011. UK arms were used in the suppression of protest in Bahrain and Libya. When the Libyan protests became a civil war, the whole range of weaponry supplied by UK and others would have been brought to bear by Colonel Gaddafi.
As protests in countries in the region developed, supplier governments were left embarrassed; unsure as to whether to publicly celebrate the will of the people or to play the protests down and continue supporting authoritarian regimes. But the reality of their position became obvious as the routine arming of regimes came to light.
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, March 2011