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CAAT postcards on the “Troops out” march

Just got back from the Troops out march in central London.

I was out and about with friends at the march handing out CAAT postcards with a couple of questions:

The last postcard at the end of the march on Trafalgar Square

Did I give one to you?

Here are the answers:
How many human rights abusers and countries in conflict does the UK supply with arms?
The UK supplies arms indiscriminately to human rights abusers and countries in conflict. In 2005, UK arms export licences were approved to 12 of the 20 ‘major countries of concern’ identified by the UK government’s own Human Rights Annual Report. These countries included Indonesia, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia – beneficiary of the UK’s largest ever arms export programme despite a human rights situation in Saudi described by Amnesty International as “dire”.

Also in 2005, there were 17 major armed conflicts underway, many of them sustained with UK weaponry. The governments of Colombia, Nepal and Uganda, were fighting rebel armies, Russia was at war in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, Israel in the Palestinian territories, and the US along with several other countries including of course the UK) was at war with Iraqi insurgents – all of these countries were supplied by the UK. Furthermore, arms companies have no qualms about selling to both sides in a conflict, for example China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan all receive a steady stream of UK weapons.

How does the arms trade undermine attempts to reduce poverty?
According to the United Nations, seven countries in the global South spend more on the military than on health and education combined. For many other countries, military spending diverts much needed resources from social services. In 2001, for instance, the UK government encouraged Tanzania to spend £28 million on a British manufactured military air traffic control system, when all that was needed was a civilian one at an eighth of the cost. Half of Tanzania does not have regular access to clean water, and the country receives substantial amounts of aid from the UK and other countries.

Small arms exports also fuel conflicts, such as that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with obvious and catastrophic impacts on development. In other places, military spending by one country can provoke a regional arms race, India and Pakistan being an obvious example. Overall, the cost of arms sales and the conflicts they help to sustain have a massive and disastrous effect on the possibility of sustainable development in the world’s poorest countries.

Which arms company is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office after multiple allegations of corruption?
BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, has been the subject of a Serious Fraud Office corruption investigation since 2003, when a whistleblower alleged that the company operated a £60 million ‘slush fund’ for Saudi officials involved in arms deals. In 2005 the investigation was widened to Chile after it was alleged that BAE Systems had paid more than £1m to intermediaries, linked to ex-president Pinochet, in return for arms deals. SFO investigators have since extended the investigation to take in BAE Systems’ dealings with the Czech Republic, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Tanzania.

However, last December, with a sale of BAE Systems Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia in the offing, the government curtailed the Saudi Arabia investigation. The response was widespread criticism, not least from institutional investors, the OECD and 130 non-governmental organisations. CAAT and the Corner House have informed the government of their intention to judicially review the decision. While investigations into the dealings with other countries continue, Saudi Arabia had been the focus of SFO activity.

Recent developments in the legal challenge and SFO investigation are available here.

Why do arms companies have their own marketing unit in the heart of the UK government?
Arms companies wield immense influence and political power within government, enjoying privileged access to decision-makers that the general public can only dream of. Corporate influence at the heart of government is exemplified by the existence of DESO (the Defence Export Services Organisation) a marketing unit of 500 civil servants that is dedicated to selling arms exports and is run by an arms industry boss.

The government gives a range of disingenuous arguments for supporting the arms trade; from the economy, to national security and international peace and stability. Their real, underlying motivations are complex, but perhaps the single most significant factor is the relationship between arms companies and the government. An intricate web of links gives arms companies unparalleled influence in determining government policy. This is the rationale behind CAAT’s Call the Shots campaign, which is presently focused on DESO.

How can you stop your money being used to subsidise and support arms sales?
Government subsidies for arms exports amount to around £900 million. Just imagine what else could be done with that money. New schools and hospitals maybe, or a massive increase in the amount we spend on conflict prevention. But instead the government gives it to the arms industry to sell military equipment and increase suffering around the world. One of CAAT’s main priorities is to stop this.

More generally, CAAT campaigns in the UK for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the arms trade, together with progressive demilitarisation in arms producing countries. We produce reports, lobby MPs and ministers, organise protests and facilitate local campaigning. But we couldn’t do it without our supporters.

We send out our bi-monthly magazine, CAATnews, to anyone who wants it. It’s packed with articles about the arms trade as well as campaigning ideas, and it’s easy to sign up to receive it. There are lots of other ways to get involved in our campaigns, or to help us financially, so please do what you can.

It was great to bump into some of the other CAAT activists, who were handing out the postcards, too.

Thanks for being out there with me!

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