The emotive argument

Jobs and economic arguments are not the Government’s official justifications for its arms sales activities, as it knows the argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But the Government repeats and encourages the myths because it realises ‘jobs’ is one justification that the UK public will accept when faced with indiscriminate arms selling.

In contrast to the impression provided by arms industry apologists,

  • the 55,000 arms export jobs comprise less than 0.2% of the UK workforce.[1]
  • the exports themselves are less than 1.5% of total UK exports,[2] and even this is an overestimate of their importance as 40% of the value of the exports was imported in the first place.[3]
  • arms exports are subsidised by the taxpayer.
  • There is an engineering skills shortage. As the President of General Dynamics UK said in 2010, “the skills that might be divested of a reducing defence industry do not just sit there waiting to come back. They will be mopped up by other industries that need such skills...You can think of the upsurge in nuclear and alternative energy as being two areas that would mop up those people almost immediately.”[4]
  • High profile arms export deals rarely result in significant UK jobs as production moves overseas. In August 2010, BAE sold 57 Hawk jets to India in the headline deal of a David Cameron-led trade delegation to the country. All of the aircraft will be made in India and, while the deal is worth £700 million, it will generate only 200 jobs in the UK.[5]

Despite all the support which it receives from the Government, the arms industry’s capacity to create jobs is in long-term decline and unlikely to improve, its performance against other sectors is unexceptional, and its skills are needed elsewhere.

Because it is taxpayers’ money that supports arms exports and production, the Government can choose to reallocate the resources to more socially-useful and productive activities which could generate more jobs. Most obviously, the renewable energy sector requires similar skills to arms production but has enormous market potential.


  1. Total UK employment in 2010 was 29.02 million (Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Statistics, April 2011, Table 3 ). UK arms export jobs are estimated to total 55,000 (ADS trade association estimate provided by UKTI DSO to CAAT, 22 December 2010). Using these figures, arms export jobs comprise 0.19% of the workforce.
  2. Total exports of goods and services in 2010 were £428 billion (Office for National Statistics, Exports and Imports of Goods and Services. Total arms exports (goods and services) are approximately £5 billion per year. In 2008, the Government stopped publishing the data on arms deliveries, however, figures prior to that oscillated around £5 billion (Defence Analytical Services and Advice, UK Defence Statistics 2008), and the lack of any increase since then can be seen in Richard Grimmett, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2002-2009, Congressional Research Service, 10 September 2010. Using these figures, arms exports comprise 1.17% of total exports.
  3. M. Chalmers, N.V. Davies, K. Hartley and C. Wilkinson, The Economic Costs and Benefits of UK Defence Exports, University of York, November 2001
  4. Parliamentary Defence Committee, Corrected Transcript of Oral Evidence to the Defence Committee Inquiry into the Strategic Defence & Security Review, HC 451-i, 8 September 2010
  5. UKTI press release, 18 August 2010
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