Government admits it cannot identify the destination of 75% of UK arms exports

18 July 2005

On the eve of the Foreign Office’s annual report to Parliament on arms trading, comes a potentially embarrassing admission that the Government does not know where three-quarters of the UK's military exports have been sent. This undermines recent assurances from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw about the transparency of the UK’s arms control regime, and its ability to prevent UK military goods from contributing to conflict and human rights abuse.

This week the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will publish the Strategic Exports Annual Report, the official record of arms exports from the UK in 2004.[1] It lists the value and nature of military exports to each country. In March this year the Foreign Secretary praised the reporting system, begun under New Labour in 1997, as “a new, transparent and accountable approach to the licensing of the UK’s defence exports”. He called the Annual Report “probably the fullest and most transparent of any European nation”.[2]

Yet in response to a recent Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Defence has admitted to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) that it only knows the country destination of around 25% of estimated military exports. The discrepancy arises because the country-by-country export figures given in the Annual Report exclude exports to military customers of “dual-use” aerospace items and military services, which are not monitored by Customs and Excise. Excluded items range from military training to aircraft parts. The MoD admitted that figures for these items, which constitute three quarters of its estimated value of UK military exports, “cannot be broken down at country level.”

By excluding these unaccountable exports, the Government’s Annual Reports have thus increasingly understated the real level of arms exports by up to 75%.[3] CAAT’s Research Coordinator Ian Prichard said:

“Jack Straw recently claimed that the Government has 'made accountability a focus of our policy on export licences'. Yet by its own admission it cannot identify the destination of 75% of UK military exports. How can the Government claim to be preventing Britain's arms trade from fuelling conflict and human rights abuse when it doesn’t know where most British military exports have been sold?”

For further information or interviews contact CAAT Press Office 020 7281 0297, media(at)caat·org·uk


[1] The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has announced that the Annual Report is currently being printed and will be released mid-week. The report is signed off by the FCO, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

[2] Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP, speech on ‘Securing a Global Arms Trade Treaty’, given at Institution of Civil Engineers, 15 March 2005: for transcript see this pdf on Saferworld's website.

[3] The Government’s Annual Report includes only the category of ‘Identified defence equipment exports’ [see table below]. The much larger value of ‘additional aerospace equipment and military services’, excluded from the Annual Report, is provided to the Government on a voluntary basis by aerospace companies themselves. They do not reveal country destinations. The Government’s own National Statistics Service regard this latter estimate as sufficiently imprecise to have officially removed its ‘Badge’ from MoD defence export figures in 2004:
See page 73 of this document

The letter sent by the MoD’s Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) to a CAAT researcher on 26 May, admitting that its figures for total arms exports cannot be broken down by country, reads:

“The back series for the figure you referred to are shown below for ease of reference:















Estimated total export deliveries: equipment and services








Identified defence equipment exports (deliveries)








Estimates of additional aerospace equipment and services








Of the above, unfortunately, only the ‘Identified defence equipment exports (deliveries)’ figures can be broken down to country level. This breakdown, for years 1997 to 2003, can be found in the Quadripartite Committee publication ARSEC – the Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls....The ‘Estimates of additional aerospace equipment and services’ figure cannot be broken down at country level. These data are derived from data provided by the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) and cover sales, reported by the UK Aerospace Companies, of goods and services to the EU, and, the Rest of the World. SBAC obtain this information through its annual survey of Aerospace Companies and is collected by broad region only.” [emphasis added]

[4] CAAT’s response to the Strategic Exports Annual Report 2004 will be circulated when the report has been published later this week.

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