Cameron getting cosier than ever with the arms trade
Sunday 24 February 2013
Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to India is merely the latest in a string of arms junkets that the Tory leader and his friends in the weapons industry have been on since the 2010 election.
Figures from Campaign Against Arms Trade (Caat) show that between May 2010 and September 2012 Britain approved export licences worth £20,596,721,834.
While arms deals and government support for the arms industry are nothing new, the relaxed, almost casual attitude of the current government‘s wheeling and dealing is unusual.
Deals that would once have been conducted in smoky back rooms with suitcases full of cash and plausible deniability are now done up front in the open and fanfared as a boost for British industry.
While in opposition Tory rightwinger Liam Fox said he would make it his policy to “maximise the UK’s share of global defence exports.”
Later Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff went further, stating: “There will be a very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment to the process. There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this government.”
Within months of entering No 10 Cameron jetted off to India as part of a trade delegation comprising six senior British Cabinet members and 50 business leaders, including top arms company bosses from BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce.
The signing of a £700 million Hawk jet contract was heralded as a great success by the British media.
Since then there have been many such trips – to Egypt and Kuwait in February 2011, to Saudi Arabia in January 2012, to Indonesia, Japan, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore in April 2012, to Brazil in September 2012 and to Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in November 2012.
Despite a brief hiatus in the wake of the brutal repression of the democratic uprisings of the Arab spring Britain continues to sell armaments to regimes such as Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In September 2011 Britain staged a seminar entitled Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies, featuring speakers from the government’s arms sales unit UK Trade & Industry Defence & Security Organisation and hosted by the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland.
The seminar organisers boasted: “The Middle East is one of the regions with the greatest number of opportunities for UK defence and security companies.
“Within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia stands out as the top destination for the defence industry.
“Also featured in this list are Oman, UAE and Bahrain, however the Middle East as a whole represents a priority market and is undoubtedly a very worthwhile region to target.”
Anti-arms trade campaigners condemned the continued sale of armaments to repressive regimes in the Middle East and north Africa as grossly hypocritical.
Caat has said that while the Foreign Office praised the democratic uprisings of the Arab spring it continued to sell armaments to the very regimes which suppressed them.
In May last year the Foreign & Commonwealth Office‘s annual Human Rights and Democracy report was published.
At the same time the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) belatedly and quietly released statistics for licences issued for military and other “strategic exports” for the final quarter of 2011.
The Foreign Office report lauded the Arab spring as the “most important prospect for the enlargement of human dignity and freedom since the end of the cold war.”
But the export figures revealed that Britain continued to license arms for export to many Arab countries, including over £1.7 billion worth of military exports to Saudi Arabia and significant amounts to Bahrain and Egypt.
Saudi Arabia was a “country of concern” in the report, which highlighted violations of the human rights of women, migrant workers and religious minorities, torture and severe restrictions of personal freedoms.
But that didn’t stop export licences being issued for “aircraft, helicopters and drones” valued at £1.708bn, “grenades, missiles and countermeasures” at £15m and £1.5m of “small arms.”
Caat spokeswoman Kaye Stearman said: “The Foreign Office report is fulsome in its support for human rights and democracy in Arab spring countries.
“However, the BIS figures show that the government is happy to approve arms exports to the same governments which abuse and suppress human rights.
“It’s time to end the double standards and stop selling weapons to these authoritarian and repressive regimes.”