Cameron sparks strong criticism over defence of arms trade

By staff writers
February 25, 2011

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has sparked sharp criticism with his defence of his government's role in selling arms to the Middle East.

He defended British arms exports to the region despite public outrage last week over news that the UK government licensed arms exports to the regimes of Libya and Bahrain, who have since used violence against their own people.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) drew attention to the presence of arms dealers in Cameron's delegation on his tour of the Middle East this week. They are accompanying him only days after revelations that the British authorities authorised the export of tear gas, ammunition and crowd control weapons to several authoritarian regimes in the region.

Cameron chose to hit back while visiting Kuwait. He said, "I simply don't understand how you can't understand how democracies have a right to defend themselves. I would have thought this argument is particularly powerful right here in Kuwait."

Cameron's critics suggest it is offensive to speak only of democracies using arms for self-defence when there is public outrage over the sale of British weapons to dictatorships using them for oppression. No arms company is known to sell weapons only to democracies to use for self-defence.

"Mr Cameron doesn't want to answer his critics' most fundamental questions," insisted Kaye Stearman of CAAT, "Why is the UK selling arms to the Middle East? He talks about democracy and the right of self-defence but in reality is flogging arms to some of the world's most authoritarian states and nastiest dictators."

The Prime Minister insisted that, "The fact that there are British companies on this visit like British Aerospace or Thales or others that have a perfect right in this regard stands for itself".

British Aerospace, whose name changed to BAE Systems some years ago, has long been accused of undue influence within the UK government.

BAE has faced criticism from NGOs and faith groups for arming some of the world's most oppressive regimes, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. It is facing allegations of corruption in five continents and was recently accused by a High Court judge in London of benefiting from corrupt payments.

The Prime Minister insisted that, "When Britain does take part in the defence trade, we do so with probably the tightest set of export licences and rules almost anywhere in the world. It is obviously a difficult process to get right on every occasion. But we do have very, very tough controls, and very clear controls."

But his comments on tough controls attracted derision in the light of the recent revelations about Libya and Bahrain. Stearman told Ekklesia, "It is nonsense for him to declare the UK has strict criteria for arms exports when supposedly 'responsible' governments use the same arms to suppress peaceful demonstrators."


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