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From British daily The Morning Star:
Caught in the middle
(Monday 09 July 2007)
THE government, it appears, is now ready to disband the Defence Export Services Organisation, the seedy and rather unpleasant body whose task was to expedite the sale of arms to any country in the world that had the cash to buy them.
It can only be to the good that this sordid agency is being removed from an increasingly vicious trade but, lest our readers succumb to the illusion that Gordon Brown‘s new Labour administration has had a rush of blood to its collective head and become progressive, we should hasten to add that this does not signify any Damascene conversion.
Long the target of anti-arms trade campaigners and anti-corruption lobbyists, DESO is not being eliminated because its aims are distasteful or because its methods were of dubious moral and legal status. Far from it.
Sadly, DESO is to be eliminated simply because the US doesn’t like it. And the US doesn’t like it because it constitutes an invisible subsidy which unbalances the competition with its own arms giants.
Where years of pressure from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and other pressure groups have failed to move new Labour, the embarrassment of an investigation by the US Department of Justice into alleged £1 billion arms deal payments to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia by BAe has succeeded.
And that US investigation has its roots, not in morality, but in the cause of a free market in arms, unimpeded by government subsidy.
Uncomfortably for the government, DESO ran the Al Yamamah arms deal for Saudi Arabia in return for a 2 per cent commission.
It will be remembered that Tony Blair halted a British inquiry into the deal on the spurious grounds of “national security.”
Clearly, the administration of Gordon Brown is just a little more sensitive to US opinion than Mr Blair’s was, if that is possible, with the added incentive to our prudent Prime Minister that it will save around £15 million a year.