A minister has declared that senior members of the government will promote arms exports to compensate for budget cuts at the Ministry of Defence.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said that this “brazen support for the arms trade” by the new coalition will result in existing arms controls being further overridden or ignored and arms companies gaining ever greater influence over government.
Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, is reported to have said, “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.”
CAAT said that the government should be “deeply embarrassed” by Luff's comments. While his statement was unusual in its frankness, CAAT suggest that in reality it shows little difference from the policies pursued by the former Labour government.
Critics of the arms trade point out that government support for the arms industry already runs into billions of pounds per annum, including research and development (R&D) spending, generous procurement arrangements and government-backed insurance. Arms exports receive disproportionate support from the special sales unit in UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
Governments of various parties have often justified such measures as necessary to retain high quality jobs in engineering and science. In contrast, CAAT points out that only 0.2 per cent of the UK workforce is employed in arms export jobs and arms comprise just 1.5 per cent of total exports. In this context, CAAT estimate that each arms export job is subsidised to the tune of around £9,000.
Arms dealers welcomed Peter Luff's statement. Alan Garwood, group business development director at BAE Systems, said, “We are very encouraged by the explicit support for defence exports which the new government has set out”.
But CAAT's Kaye Stearman responded, “Apart from the ethical problems posed by ministers acting as salesmen, flogging weapons to abusive and undemocratic countries, it is based on the false premise that arms sales benefit the economy and create jobs. They don't.”
She went on, “Rather, arms exports only increase the profits and political influence of globalised arms companies and waste resources that could be used to support greater security and economic well-being.”
Meanwhile, the new government continues to face criticism for its maintenance of UKTI's
Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), which provides support for arms companies in their export-related activities. This includes promoting weapons sales worldwide, including those to countries in conflict and regimes with a documented record of human rights abuse.
Until March 2008, this role was carried out by the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), housed at the Ministry of Defence. The disbandment of DESO, after a sustained campaign by CAAT, and its transferral to UKTI was supposedly to bring all export functions under one ministry, enable greater transparency around arms sales, and give better value for taxpayers.
In response, CAAT launched the campaign, UKTI: Armed and Dangerous. The organisation is currently urging supporters to sign a “demolition order” for UKTI DSO as an “unsafe structure”.