Arms export committee slams government policies towards repressive regimes

13 July 2012

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) welcomes the new and highly critical report of the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC). CAAT notes especially the following points made by the report:

  • Neither the Coalition or previous Labour government paid proper attention to human rights issues when considering arms export licences.
  • There was a conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes while strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time.
  • There were no significant changes in the repressive regimes where the UK approved arms export licences - the Arab Spring simply exposed the true nature of the repressive regimes.
  • The government must apply more cautious judgements when considering arms sales to authoritarian regimes who might use them for internal repression.

The report broke new ground in two areas:

  • It questioned the nature of the UK relationship with Saudi Arabia, by far the largest arms buyer in the region, asking the government "whether it applies different or the same considerations in deciding whether or not to approve arms export licences to Saudi Arabia to those applied to other countries in the region and, if different, what those considerations are."
  • It enquired how UKTI Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government's arms sales unit, determined priority markets. It asked the government to: "set out fully the reasons why Libya and Saudi Arabia remain within the UKTI DSO Priority Markets list for 2011/2012 when both countries are also listed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its latest Human Rights and Democracy Annual Report as being Countries of Concern."

Kaye Stearman of CAAT said:

This report pulls no punches when it comes to analysing government policies on arms exports before, during and after the Arab Spring. CAAT welcomes its willingness to go beyond the export licencing process to look at the rationale determining UKTI DSO priority markets and the position of Saudi Arabia. We need much more light shed on this very murky area of government activity.


For further information or an interview please contact CAAT’s Media Coordinator, Kaye Stearman on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email media(at)caat·org·uk.


  1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems. Around 75% of CAAT’s income is raised from individual supporters.
  2. The Committees on Arms Export Controls comprises members from the Business, Innovation and Skills, Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development Select Committees. Scrutiny of Arms Exports (2012): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2010, Quarterly Reports for July to December 2010 and January to September 2011, the Government's Review of arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa, and wider arms control issues was published on 13 July 2012. It is available here. Campaign Against Arms Trade submitted written evidence to the Committee.
  3. The arms export licensing process is carried out by the Export Control Organisation , based in the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, with input from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and, where development issues are involved, the Department for International Development (DFID). The ECO database contains information on strategic export licences granted, refused or revoked by the government. These can be divided into military licences and dual-use licences (ie have both military and civilian uses). Official licence application statistics are updated on a quarterly basis, usually three months after the end of the quarter. A more accessible, informative and searchable version of the database can be found on CAAT website here.
  4. UK Trade & Investment is responsible for promoting all UK exports. Although arms sales account for less than 1.2% of UK exports, UKTI DSO employs approximately 160 staff to promote arms sales, while UKTI’s Sectors Group employs approximately 130 staff to support 34 other industry sectors.
  5. The report was published in the same week as the Farnborough International arms fair held from 9-15 July 2012. Farnborough is organised by "ADS Group", the trade association for Aerospace, Defence and Security companies, supported by UKTI. UKTI DSO invites military delegations, organises a briefng programme for arms companies, provides space for private meetings and marshalls a cross-government sales team, including government ministers, to promote arms sales during the week. Prime Minister David Cameron opened the Farnborough Air Show on 9 July. Other government ministers who attended were Business Secretary Vince Cable and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
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