13 October 2011
UK continues to sell arms to unsavoury regimes even as repression continues
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says that the government has failed to respond adequately to critics of arms sales to repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. In a written statement Foreign Secretary William Hague stated that there were no fundamental flaws with the UK arms export licencing system, although mechanisms should be strengthened to enable revised risk categorisation, quicker response and and "immediate licensing suspension to countries experiencing a sharp increase in insecurity".
Yet, recently released government figures reveal that the UK government continued to issue licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other authoritarian states in the Middle East and north Africa, even as popular protests swept the region.
The figures for the second quarter of 2011 in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Strategic Export Controls Report, which can be seen by clicking here and then clicking on Published Reports, were issued this week. From April to June 2011 licences were approved for military and dual-use equipment to the region totalling £2,023 million. Weaponry ranged from combat aircraft to ammunition, body armour and components.
Furthermore, delegations from countries in the Middle East were invited by the UK government to attend the recent Defence & Security International (DSEi) arms fair in London. They included Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Kaye Stearman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says
Mr Hague's statement does not answer the stinging criticism from the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls that the government had misjudged the risks that UK arms sold to authoritarian governments might be used for internal repression. Rather Mr Hague repeats the fallacy that there are no fundamental flaws in the system and that the solution is better intelligence and speedy revocation of licences. Revoking licences is too late - once the weapons have gone, the UK government has no control over how they are used.
These latest figures show that the government continues to promote and sell arms to dangerous and undemocratic governments. The only solution is an immediate end to all arms sales to repressive regimes.
Analysis - Strategic Export Controls Quarterly Report - Second Quarter 2011
A detailed breakdown by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) showed that while military approvals dropped in March, in the immediate aftermath of brutal repression in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, they returned to previously high levels in April and onwards.
As in past years, the largest customer in the region was Saudi Arabia where 21 military licences were issued with a total value of £1.706 billion, most of this accounted for by two licences covering combat aircraft. Other items included components for military and support aircraft, military helicopters, naval vessels, sniper rifles and water cannons, plus gun mountings, gun silencers and hand grenades.
Despite continuing repression in Bahrain, the UK also licensed weapons and dual-use equipment for export to the value of £127,000. These included body armour and components for body armour.
Other large customers in the region were Oman where a wide range of weapons and components worth £8.8 million were licenced for sale; United Arab Emirates (UAE) with £6.7 million worth of weapons approved for export and Tunisia with licences totalling £3.1 million.
Smaller but significant amounts were licenced for export to Algeria (£475,000), Egypt (£202,000), Iraq (£352,000) , Israel (£999,000), Jordan (£591,000), Kuwait (£1.5 million), Morocco (£466,979) and Qatar with £200,000.
One country where no arms sales were recorded over the period was Libya, previously a priority market for UK arms sales. UN Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on 17 March, placed an international arms embargo on Libya. However, arms sales may commence before the end of 2011 and the new Libyan National Transitional Council has indicated that it will fulfil previous government contracts.
For further information contact CAAT's Media Co-ordinator Kaye Stearman on 0207 281 0287 or email Kaye Stearman.
1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end 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 80% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.
2. Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the outcome of a review of UK defence and security policy in a written statement to Parliament on 13 October in the light of events in the Middle East and North Africa.
3. The annual report of the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls published on 5 April 2011 was highly critical of the government's arms export policy and stated that successive governments had "misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression." It also posed the question of how the government: "intends to reconcile the potential conflict of interest between increased emphasis on promoting arms exports with the staunch upholding of human rights."
4. 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 (FCO), with reports published quarterly by the FCO. The report for the second quarter of 2011 was published in the week of 10 October 2011.
5. The government's arms sales promotion unit is UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms, which represent only 1.5% of exports.
6. Defence & Security Equipment International (formerly Defence Systems & Equipment International), or DSEi, is one of the world's biggest arms fairs and has been held in the ExCel centre in East London's Docklands since 1999. The 2011 DSEi arms fair took place from 13-16 September 2011. DSEi receives major financial, logistical and political support from the UK government, most notably through UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation.
7. Saudi Arabia has been a major buyer of UK weaponry since the 1960s. Arms sales are conducted on a government to government basis, in tandem with the major arms companies involved, especially BAE Systems and EADS. The major arms contracts are Al Yamamah, of the mid-1980s, and the later Al Salam and Saudi British Defence Cooperation Programme. The UK also sold Tactica armoured personnel carriers in a separate deal with the Saudi Arabian National Guard. The UKTI DSO lists Saudi Arabia as a priority market country, and has a team resident in the country. The UK routinely invites Saudi Arabia to attend UK arms fairs, including the recent DSEi.
8. The UK has a long-standing military co-operation with the Bahrain military and, despite revoking some arms licences in February 2011, continues to sell arms and dual use equipment to Bahrain. It was invited to DSEi 2011.
9. The UK continued to licence arms exports to Libya until mid-February, when the government began to revoke licences. Up till February 2011, UKTI DSO listed Libya as priority market country, and had a team resident in Tripoli. Libya was routinely invited to UK arms fairs, including DSEi 2009 (although it did actually not attend). The UK had by far the largest pavilion at Libya's arms fair LibDex in 2010, and was supported by a team from UKTI DSO.
10. Members of the government have aggressively promoted arms exports. David Cameron was accompanied on his visit to the Middle East in February by the representatives of eight arms companies but insisted the UK "has nothing to be ashamed of." Gerald Howarth, Minister for International Security Strategy, stated at a fringe event at the 2011 Conservative Party Conference ... : "In the British defence industry we have a world beater...And what I'll try to do is work flat out to try to get export orders for the Hawk ... We liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant, we liberated Libya from a tyrant, frankly I want to see the UK business benefit from the liberation we've given to their people." (Yorkshire Post, 4 October 2011)