UK must end policy of 'arms control by embarrassment', say campaigners

By agency reporter
July 26, 2014

Following the release of the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) annual report, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called on the UK government to stop promoting arms sales to oppressive regimes and end its policy of "arms control by embarrassment."

As the report itself acknowledges “the Government's arms export policy is essentially one of reacting to events and not taking sufficient account of the nature of the regimes concerned at the point when the decision is made to approve the export licence or not.” [para 167]

The UK government actively promotes arms sales to repressive regimes through its sponsorship and facilitation of events such as Farnborough Airshow. The event was opened last week by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and was attended by Russian state arms company Rosoboronexport, the same company that has been widely condemned for selling weapons to the Assad regime in Syria.

The UK follows a 'case by case' approach to arms exports rather than an embargo on all arms sales to regimes which abuse human rights. Even if exports are restricted to a particular state during times of tension, it will already be in possession of arms that were previously exported, and will be eligible for more licences once flashpoints die down.

UK weapons have been used for internal repression in places such as Libya, where UK weapons were used on Libyan citizens, Bahrain, where BAE Systems military vehicles were used against pro democracy protesters and Egypt, where UK produced gas canisters were used to suppress dissent.

Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: "For far too long the UK foreign policy has been one of arms control by embarrassment. Why should it take a humanitarian crisis before the government stops promoting and supporting arms sales to tyrants? Time and again we see the same tired excuses from government: we urgently need a fundamental revaluation of the UK's approach to arms sales."

On 20th July, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said of Russian support for separatists in Ukraine: “They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them, they have been providing them with succour. They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out.”

Yet the UK continues to promote and supply weapons to regimes with a well-documented record of human rights abuses and repression. The UK's 2014/15 priority markets for arms exports include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Oman, Qatar, Turkey and UAE. The UK's largest 'buyer' is Saudi Arabia, which the government licensed £1.6 billion worth of military licences to in 2013 alone, says CAAT.

Andrew continued:

"How can the UK claim to promote human rights and democracy when its own priority markets include some of the most oppressive governments in the world? These are the regimes that the government will be actively targeting and trying to do business with, despite their appalling human rights records", said Andrew Smith.

Every year the UK government releases a list of 'countries of concern' in relation to human rights and democracy, the most recent report included 28 countries. In the last 12 months the government has licensed arms sales to 18 of them.

The UK claims to have some of the most "rigorous" and "robust" arms control policies in the world, but this is clearly not the case, says Campaign Against Arms Trade. The campaigning group says it has proved this point by highlighting the various occasions on which the UK has used this line to excuse arming tyrants.

The results can be seen here on the Rigorous Repetition tumblr.


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