The UK government spends about £46.6 billion a year on the military, according to figures provided by the UK to NATO, or 2.1% of GDP.
After several years of relative austerity, this military budget is now firmly on the rise, with a 10% real-terms increase since 2015, and more increases promised.
How much, in comparison, does the UK spend on preventing climate change? There are no official figures, but a recent report by an NGO coalition* estimated annual spending on “climate change and nature” to be £17 billion, which they called to increase to £42 billion.
“The first duty of government is the security of the nation and its people” – such clichés are frequently trotted out in Government military and security policy documents; but the “security” in question is almost always seen in terms of state security, centring on the military and other “hard” security tools (such as border control).
This militaristic outlook is not simply about defending the UK from military attack – a remote prospect as even the government admits – but about using armed force to attempt to solve a wide range of problems, be it terrorism or regional tensions and conflicts.
This approach has led to a series of disastrous military interventions that have made the problems they sought to address far worse. It also reflects the idea that military power is the key to the UK’s status in the world, with ministers seeing a global military presence at the core of “Global Britain” post-Brexit.
But “security” does not have to be seen in these terms. A focus on sustainable, human security would reinterpret the “first duty” of government in terms of ensuring the security of people in the UK – and, inseparably, of people around the world – from the threats they actually face, which are overwhelmingly not susceptible to military “solutions”.
Most importantly, by far the biggest and most urgent threat to people’s security, including in the UK, is climate change, which is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide. Yet, while the government has accepted a target of reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 (which many see as too slow), it has not backed this up with the policies and resources needed to achieve it. The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned this year that the UK is missing almost all its targets for carbon reduction.
The CCC estimates that achieving net zero by 2050 would require investment of between 1–2% of GDP per year. Yet this is seen as unrealistic by a government that sees 2% of GDP as the absolute minimum to be spent on the military, to meet NATO’s 2% target for its members – with ministers (backed by the arms industry and its supporters) calling for far higher spending. This represents a distorted set of priorities, fuelled by a distorted, militaristic view of security, which urgently needs to change. Right now, the first duty of every government should be tackling the climate crisis.
‘Fighting The Wrong Battles – How Obsession With Military Power Diverts Resources From The Climate Crisis’ is a new report by Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman. Read the full report
Attorney General’s office
sitting on corruption charges in relation to arms deals with Saudi
nearly two years.
A new Attorney General (the government’s chief legal adviser) was appointed in February and her approval is necessary for the case to proceed. CAAT is calling on her to ensure the case moves forward.Add your voice.
This Wednesday the Saudi Arabian cargo ship Bahri Yanbu is due at Tilbury docks.
CAAT is concerned that this ship is carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen, where there is a serious risk they will be used in violations of international humanitarian law. We are also concerned that it may be collecting further UK-made military equipment while it is at Tilbury.
Thank you for every petition you signed, every gift you gave, every action you took part in this year. Here are some of the year’s highlights in our fight together for a more just and peaceful world.
Reasons to feel hopeful in 2020
1. CAAT win at the Court of Appeal
On 20 June, CAAT won its appeal against the UK government’s decision to license the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful‘ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place.
As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law. It has stopped issuing new arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, for use in Yemen
The Government is appealing the Court’s decision, so we will bring you news when we have it. In the meantime, 57 applications for export licences under consideration at the time of the ruling mean hundreds of millions of pounds of arms sales remain on hold, and a new £10 billion deal for the sale of 48 more BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon jets, agreed in March 2018, has not yet been finalised.
2. DPRTE arms fair on the run
The Government-backed Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) arms fair was successfully chased out of Birmingham’s NEC in March, having already been forced out of Cardiff following protests.
Activists from the peace movement, trade unions, and Yemeni and Palestinian groups came together to plan a day of creative action that was never needed. The threat of protest was enough for the event to be moved away from scrutiny and behind military wire at Farnborough.
The arms fair will be at the Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre again in 2020. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and join the campaign to shut them down.
3.Our resistance is global
Fellow activists around the world have been taking incredible inspiring actions. Thanks to creative non-violent action by Auckland Peace Action and its allies, New Zealand’s Weapons Expo has now been cancelled, chased out of three host cities – Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston!
Meanwhile in Japan, activists organised a huge rally and die-in outside the first ever ‘DSEI Japan’ arms fair in Chiba in November. Arms trade events were banned under Japan’s constitution until a few years ago, when a change made by the Government allowed the sale and transfer of arms.
4. European worker solidarity with Yemen
Saudi state-owned ship the Bahri-Yanbu was met with protests as it tried to dock in European ports this year, as workers stood in solidarity with the people of Yemen. While French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to sell arms to the Saudi regime, French activists blockaded the port of Le Havre for two days in May, forcing the Saudi ship to set sail without its military cargo on board.
Later that month the Saudi state faced more embarrassment as workers in Marseille refused to load another state-owned ship, the Bahri Tabuk, with military equipment destined for Yemen.
At the Bahri-Yanbu’s next port, Genoa, Italian dock workers joined forces with unions and campaigners including Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), and refused to load the ship. The group released a statement saying “We will not be complicit in what is happening in Yemen.” Power to the People indeed.
5. DSEI Week of Action
In September, LGBTQIA+ activists, green groups, people of faith, migrant groups and many more came together to resist the world’s largest arms fair coming to London. Each day was themed around a different issue linked to the arms trade from Borders to Climate Justice, because in the words of Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” The struggle against the arms trade must be anti-racist, anti-capitalist, antipatriarchal, and actively centring those most directly affected by its devastating consequences.
During seven days of action, the roads outside the Excel centre saw hundreds of people using their bodies to block delivery of military equipment. As well as direct action there were faith meetings, Palestinian dabka dancing, solidarity protests with Rojava and Hong Kong, a play led by the young activists of Advocacy Academy, music, film screenings and much more.
6. Kurdish solidarity action against Brighton arms factory
7. A bumper year for institutions ditching unethical sponsors
2019 saw huge wins for the movement for ethical sponsorship. Art Not Oil successfully persuaded The Festival of Making to drop British arms company BAE Systems as its main sponsor, and lesbian magazine Diva dropped BAE’s staff network from its 2019 Diva Awards shortlist after complaints from LGBT and peace groups.
Feeling the heat from climate strikers and activists, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it had listened to its youth strikers and ended its sponsorship deal with BP in October. The National Theatre swiftly followed suit, announcing its decision to drop Shell’s funding, citing the climate emergency and the role of theatre in shaping culture and encouraging understanding.
It’s not just oil and arms under the spotlight. The National Portrait Gallery turned down a £1m grant from the Sackler Foundation after artist Nan Goldin led a campaign against the Sackler family’s funds, whose pharmaceutical investments are profiting from the US opioid crisis.
Thank you for your support for the petition to the New Scientistthis autumn, calling for an end to sponsorship of their annual New Scientist Live event by BAE Systems and BP. The momentum gained this year against unethical sponsorship promises fertile ground for the campaign to continue in 2020.
8. International Criminal Court called on to investigate arms companies
On 12th December CAAT joined the European Center for Constitutional Human Rights, Yemeni organisation Mwatana for Human Rights and other international organisations, in calling on the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate executives of transnational arms companies and Government officials for their potential complicity in violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. A 350 page dossier was submitted, focused on 26 specific airstrikes which unlawfully killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools and hospitals.
The criminal responsibility of arms companies and Government Ministers exporting and authorising arms to the Saudi-led coalition has never been challenged, yet they have played a critical role in the violations of international humanitarian law, and in creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We’ll let you know how this ground-breaking legal action progresses, and whether those responsible will be brought to court.
Thank you for everything you do to support CAAT’s work. Here’s to resisting together in 2020.
Last week, a coalition of European and Yemeni groups, including CAAT, submitted a dossier to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, asking them to investigate European government and arms company officials for potentially aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and their coalition partners have been bombing civilians in Yemen ever since they entered the war there in March 2015. According to the Yemen Data Project, almost a third of coalition air strikes have been against civilian targets, and in another third of cases the nature of the target was uncertain. Around 100,000 people in total have been killed since the war started.
The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, as well as numerous Yemeni and foreign NGOs have documented hundreds of cases of specific attacks against residential areas, schools, hospitals, agricultural facilities, market places, gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and civilian factories, many of which have killed dozens of civilians, and where no military target has been in evidence nearby. These attacks are very likely to be violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL – often known as the “laws of war”), and many may be severe enough to be classed as War Crimes. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led partial blockade of the country’s air and sea ports has helped create a devastating humanitarian crisis that has already killed tens of thousands, and has put 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. There is a strong case that Saudi Arabia and its allies have been using starvation as a weapon of war, which would also be a war crime.
Who is responsible for these probable war crimes? And who can be held to account for them. Of course, those most directly responsible are the military and political leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other coalition members, who are waging the war, and the military officers who order and carry out attacks. Unfortunately, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and most of their coalition partners, are not signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and neither is the Yemen where the crimes take place, the actions of these leaders and officers fall outside the jurisdiction of the ICC.
However, responsibility for the crimes goes well beyond those directly engaged in the war. Campaigners have long argued that those who supply the arms used to wage wars and commit such atrocities, while knowing full well how these arms are being used, share the moral responsibility. This includes both the companies that produce and sell the weapons, and the governments that sanction and promote the deals. But can they also be held legally accountable for their role in enabling war crimes?
Holding the guilty to account
Last week in The Hague, on the 11th of December, a coalition of groups, including CAAT, launched an effort to do just that, submitting a 350-page Communication to the ICC, asking the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to launch an investigation into whether senior arms company executives and government officials (political or civil service) involved in arms export decisions, may be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen. The coalition is led by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a group of lawyers who pursue international human rights cases, and also includes Mwatana for Human Rights (a Yemeni NGO that documents abuses by all sides in the Yemen War), Amnesty International, Centre Delas (Spain), and Rete Disarmo (Italy).
The Communication lists five countries as key suppliers of the Saudi-led coalition: the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The companies listed include those selling fighter aircraft to the Saudi-led coalition:
BAE Systems (UK), producers of the Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used by Saudi Arabia;
Airbus Defence & Space S.A. (Spain), co-procuers of the Typhoon;
Airbus Defence & Space GmbH (Germany), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Leonardo (Italy), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Dassault Aviation (France), maker of the Mirage fighters used by UAE;
Other companies named are those selling bombs, missiles, and related equipment used in the war:
through its subsidiary RWM
Thales, who produce targeting equipment used to deploy the weapons.
As well as supplying a large proportion of the aircraft that make up the Saudi and UAE’s air strike force, the companies concerned also provide ongoing supplies of spare parts, maintenance and repair, technical support, and training, necessary to keep the aircraft flying. BAE Systems in particular has 6,300 employees in Saudi Arabia, without whose work the UK-supplied Tornado and Typhoon aircraft – more than half the Saudi strike force – would quickly be grounded.
While Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are not party to the ICC, the five European countries are. Thus, the Communication argues, the decisions taken by these governments and companies to export arms, provide services, and issue export licences, are taken on the soil of ICC participant countries, and are thus subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
ECCHR have produced a case report, and a set of Q&A, with more details about the case.
This case… may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions… that their choices have potentially deadly consequences, for which they may one day be held to account.
The ICC and CAAT’s Judicial Review
This is of course not the only legal case relating to this issue; CAAT’s own Judicial Review case against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, following our June 2019 victory in the Court of Appeal, where the judges ruled that the UK Government’s approach to approving export licenses for arms that could be used in Yemen was “irrational and therefore unlawful”. The Government has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, and we await a court date.
The case before the ICC, however, is of a very different nature, equally and important and complimentary to the Judicial Review. CAAT’s case is a matter of administrative law regarding government policy, and if successful it could force the government to change the way it goes about export licensing – in the best case, it might force a complete halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition countries so long as the air war in Yemen is ongoing. The ICC case, however, is a matter of personal, criminal responsibility for war crimes, specifically the crime of aiding and abetting such war crimes through the supply of arms. At present, no specific individuals are accused; what the Communication is asking is for the OTP to investigate which individuals in the governments and companies concerned might be responsible for any potential crimes.
The road to actually placing any government ministers or officials, or arms company executives, in the dock at The Hague, is a very long one, and it is possible that no charges will ever be brought. But the principle that those who commit, or who enable and assist in the commission of war crimes, should be held accountable for their actions is of incredible importance. It would be better if leaders and senior officers and officials of the countries actually waging the war could also be held to account; perhaps it will be in the future. But so long as this case is live, it may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions, whether at a government or corporate level, that their decisions have potentially deadly consequences for the people on the receiving end of their weapons, for which they may one day be held to account.
In October 2019, Turkish forces invaded Northern Syria. This
followed the decision of the US Government to remove its presence from the
area. There were reports of
killed right from the start of operations. The US
had been allied with Kurdish forces, who led the campaign against ISIL in the
region, but Turkey classifies the Kurdish YPG as terrorists.
Turkish forces invaded Afrin in 2018, in operations that saw them accused of “indiscriminately shelling
civilians” by Amnesty International.
Despite its authoritarian domestic policy, and
increasingly aggressive foreign policy, the Erodgan regime in Turkey is among the world’s largest recipients
of UK weapons. Since President Erdogan came to power in August 2014, the UK has
licensed £1.1 billion worth of arms
to Turkey. Among other weapons, these include: £206 million
worth of ML10 licences (aircraft, helicopters, drones); £84 million worth of
ML6 licences (armoured vehicles, tanks) and £82 million worth of ML4 licences
(grenades bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
What an end to the week of action – the end of a week packed with resistance and solidarity, and energies were still high. There were so many amazing actions to disrupt the set-up of the arms fair. Roads were blocked, and there were creative actions from games to drag aerobics, all saying loud and clear to the UK government: #Nohumanisillegal#FreeMovementForPeopleNotArms.
War Starts Here. This is where we stop it. One of the world’s largest arms fairs, DSEI, takes place on our doorstep at the ExCel Centre in Newham, East London. The Festival of Resistance brought local and global activists together to #StopDSEI.