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In-Depth-Huffington Post-Jul 22, 2015
From Yemen to Gaza and beyond: UK arms export
controls are broken
UK support for Saudi Arabia and Israel
We are forever being told of the 'rigorousness' and 'robustness' of UK arms export controls, but
the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
The problem is less to do with legislation and more to do with a lack of political will. In theory UK
arms exports are supposed to work on the basis of a risk assessment. This means that arms
should never be licensed if there is a 'clear risk' of them being used in violation of international
humanitarian law or for internal repression. By any reasonable interpretation this should block all
arms sales to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi regime is one of the most oppressive in the world, and Israel's treatment of people in
the occupied territories has been both immoral and illegal. Both states have regularly been
accused of flouting international law and both have a history of aggression towards their
neighbours. At the same time, both have enjoyed close political and military relationships with
Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of UK weapons, and has been for a number of years. Saudi
forces haveused UK weapons in Bahrain and are using UK aircraft against the people of Yemen. Unfortunately this isn't even the first time UK aircraft have been used against Yemen. Research from Amnesty International shows that UK weapons were very likely to have been used by Saudi Arabia in the 2009 bombing too.
Last August a report from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) found that the
UK had approved 12 export licences to Israel for weapons that may have been used in attacks
on Gaza. In response, the then Business Secretary, Vince Cable, concluded that the licences
should be suspended, but only with the unacceptable caveat that this should only be in the event
of any 'resumption of significant hostilities.' In effect, the government's policy was that even more
people would need to die before anything could be done.
People, a new report published by Campaign Against Arms Trade, War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, shows
that the UK government approved over £4 million worth of military export licences in the four
months immediately following last summer's
Arms export controls are broken
What these examples have in common is that they are representative of an arms control policy
that is broken. They are the inevitable result of a policy that focuses on maximising arms sales
rather than limiting them. This is because the government is not merely a dispassionate observer
in the arms trade, it is an active participant.
There is even a government department, UK Trade & Investment's Defence & Security
Organisation (UKTI DSO), that exists solely to promote the sale of weapons abroad. This year
the 130 strong body will be key to the organisation of DSEI, the world's biggest arms fair, which
will be rolling into East London this September. Among attendees will be some of the biggest
arms companies in the world and many of the most oppressive dictatorships. How can the
government credibly claim to be fighting for
human rights and democracy when it is actively courting and arming tyrants?
UK weapons haven't just being used against Yemen and Gaza, in recent years they have also
we know about, and the only reason we know about any of them is because of the brave work of
activists and journalists in uncovering them. None have been brought to light by the government
off its own accord and nor have they resulted in changes to legislation.
When countries like the UK sell weapons it not only facilitates the attacks they are used in, it also
sends a message of support to the governments that are carrying them out. For this to change it
will require more than the cancellation of a few licences, it will need a complete overhaul of
government priorities and an end to the hypocrisy that is at the heart of foreign policy.