Jim McCluskey, who lives in Vince Cable’s constituency asks: As a Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable supported the call to end government support for arms exports; what’s he doing now he’s trade minister responsible for the arms industry?
The international arms trade fuels the World’s wars. This is essentially a criminal activity which causes violent death and untold suffering on a vast scale. The British government is a key player giving massive help, with taxpayers’ money, to UK arms manufacturers.
In 2007 total UK arms exports amounted to £5,474 million. In 2009 the British government claimed that, of the 192 states in the United Nations, the UK was the second largest seller of arms.
The vast gulf between the values of decent citizens and that of the government is illustrated by the boastfulness of the government at such atrocious figures. Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, said recently, referring to government support for the selling of arms on the international market:
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.
This is like boasting about being the world’s leading international pimp, at the cutting edge of the trade in prostitution; or like boasting about being a leader among the international cartels in drugs trafficking.
The powerhouse of government assistance to the arms trade is the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO) within UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). The man in charge is the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Dr Vincent Cable MP, who happens to be my member of parliament.
I wrote to Vince Cable asking him to explain how the government justifies granting export licenses to some of the most repressive regimes in the world, and requesting that he respond to the following examples:
- In 2009, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute identified 16 countries as locations of major armed conflict. The UK government authorised the sale of arms to 12 of them.
- In March 2011, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s identified 26 “major countries of human rights concern”. The UK government approved arms export licences to 10 of them – including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and Israel.
- In a Democracy Index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Saudi Arabia was ranked as almost the worst of authoritarian regimes: it was 161 out of the 167 countries listed. The British government authorised the sale of more arms to Saudi Arabia than any other state.
- Despite Saudi Arabia being one of the most repressive regimes in the world, the British government employs 210 people to help facilitate the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia by UK manufacturing companies.
- In the Democracy Index Libya was listed as one of the worst countries in the world for human rights abuses, only two places above Saudi Arabia. Yet it was only in February 2011 that the government stopped authorising the sale of arms to Libya.
- Other buyers of UK arms in the Democracy Index list of authoritarian regimes include Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Nigeria and Turkmenistan. We have authorised the sale of arms to all these states.
- On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index Libya is listed as one of the 50 most corrupt regimes on the planet. In September 2009, a Libyan delegation was invited to the biggest UK arms fair. UKTI-DSO exhibited at the Libyan Aviation Exhibition the following month.
- Algeria’s appalling record on human rights has not stopped the UK government giving export licences for arms sales.
- The British government, through UKTI-DSO, is supporting and supervising the sale of weapons to a total of 52 countries.
- 56% of UKTI’s industry-specific staff, work on behalf of the arms manufacturers. The other 44% work for all the other export industries put together.
- The government says by promoting the arms industry it is just creating jobs, but only 0.2 % of the UK workforce is engaged in the arms industry.
- The government says it is justified in engaging this 56% of civil servants on the arms industry because they are promoting exports. But only a mere 1.5% of UK exports are arms.
- As well as the British arms companies, the UK government works for armaments firms in other countries, its ‘key accounts’ include Lockhead Martin and General Dynamics in the United States, Thales in France and Finmeccanica in Italy.
Instead of reply to my request for his justification, as the government minister responsible, for this intimate relationship between Britain and the arms trade with the world’s most repressive regimes, Vince Cable passed my request to Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, former top banker, but now minister of state for Trade and Investment.
Clearly, even ex-bankers struggle to defend the indefensible, as Lord Green ignored my request for a response to each of the above thirteen points. So, how did he deal with the accusation implied in the evidence, that the British government is engaged in the world’s most lethal trade? By treating my request with contempt and a brush-off:
The government takes its defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operates some of the most rigorous export controls in the world. The UK government has reacted quickly to events in the Middle East and North Africa: we have reviewed licenses and moved swiftly to revoke licenses of items that could be used for internal repression’.
With regard to Lybia, Lord Green says “a UN arms embargo has been in place since 26 February 2011” and was “implemented into domestic law on 3rd March 2011”. He further states that the government’s views on arms exports is guided by Article 51 of the UN Charter that every country has the right to defend itself.
The question then arises, who did UKTI-DSO think that Libya was arming to defend itself against up to 3rd March 2011? And was the government not aware before that date that the Libyan regime was a repressive one?
Is it possible that Lord Green had not read the highly critical report by the Committee on Arms Export Controls, titled The Report: Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2011). The committee found that:
Both the present Government and its predecessor 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.
And the committee refers to the huge number of revoked licences:
…their number, 156 by the time the Committees concluded their Report, reflects the degree of policy misjudgement that has occurred. [para. 134]
This is effectively 156 admissions of guilt, since it has been well known for decades that the weapons and citizen control equipment was being sold to repressive regimes.
Lord Green’s letter states that ‘As not every country either has or wants to have its own defence industry, some level of international trade in defence goods will be essential’. This clearly does not explain the licensing of arms to such countries as India, China, Israel, etc. etc, which are well able to make there own defensive arms.
Lord Green’s letter informs us that the Coalition Government’s Programme clearly states – ‘We will support defence jobs through exports that are used for legitimate purposes, not internal repression’.
Making a statement does not make it so. Furthermore the jobs plea is long since established as s specious justification for trading in weapons of repression and mass slaughter, since the arms industry accounts for only 0.2 percent of jobs in the UK . This workforce could readily be redeployed to life-enhancing occupations rather than life-destroying ones, for example in the sustainable energy industry.
Lord Green’s letter boasts that the UK government has a ‘leading position on the global marketplace’ in the international arms trade, as if this is a matter of pride rather than deep shame. There’s little doubt that if people in Britain were fully aware of the repressive regimes to which Britain has so freely sold, and continues to sell, weapons, and the use to which those weapons are put, for both internal repression and the armed conflicts which blight the world, there would be an overwhelming majority calling for the lethal and immoral trade to end immediately.