Warning over reported increase in UK arms exports

By staff writers
June 18, 2008

News that Britain may have become the world's largest arms exporter last year has been met by a warning from campaigners that the majority are still being sent to oppressive regimes.

According to government figures released on Tuesday, the UK has overtaken the US which normally occupies the top slot.

The UK won £10bn of new defence orders in 2007 from overseas, giving it a 33 per cent share of the world export market, according to figures from the Defence and Security Organisation, set up to promote Britain's defence exports.

Export orders totalled £5.5bn in 2006.

The 2007 figures were helped by a large order from Saudi Arabia, often criticised for its human rights record, for Typhoon aircraft, valued initially at £4.3bn. They were further aided by orders from Oman and Trinidad and Tobago for offshore patrol vessels.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which collates data on arms deliveries, the UK was the sixth largest supplier of defence equipment in 2007 - after the US, Russia, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Over a five-year period it was the fifth largest.

But according to the DSO figures, last year's orders mean the UK has been the second largest exporter of arms over the previous five years, after the US. Cumulative exports from the US were $63bn (£32bn), the UK $53bn, Russia $33bn, France $17bn, and Germany and Israel with $9bn each.

Saudi Arabia was the largest importer over the period - $31bn, followed by India with $18bn and the US $17bn.

Ian Godden, chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, told the Financial Times: "We are proud that the UK defence industry remains a world leader. This success is built on investment made in the 1990s and, if we are to continue to reap these economic benefits in the future, this investment will need to be maintained."

But Symon Hill from Campaign Against Arms Trade told Ekklesia; "The murky nature of the arms trade means that there are several contradictory sets of statistics about the level of UK arms exports. However, there is no doubt that the majority of arms exported from the UK are sold to oppressive regimes or to countries engaged in conflict. This is despite the sharp rise in British public opposition to the arms trade over the last two years.

"I think that most people in the UK will not be fooled by arms companies which claim to bring great benefits to the UK economy while taking hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money every year in subsidies."

The DSO is the successor to the Defence Export Services Organisation, which was moved by the government out of the Ministry of Defence following arms export scandals and a public campaign co-ordinated by CAAT and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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