The British government have been warned that supplying arms to Libyan rebels will have long-term negative consequences. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said that the arms embargo on Libya must apply to all sides.
CAAT made the comments after reports that David Cameron’s government was considering sending arms to rebel forces, a move that appeared to get some backing from US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
CAAT said that they would “strongly oppose” moves by any country or by NATO to break the current arms embargo on Libya. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on 17 March, places an international arms embargo on all sides in the conflict.
“Libya is already awash with weaponry, largely supplied to Colonial Gaddafi by the same European countries who are now providing air power to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’," said the statement from CAAT.
In 2009 Libya was sold weapons worth €343 million by European Union states and these countries, including the UK, continued to promote, exhibit and sell weapons in 2010.
CAAT declared that “Adding further weaponry would make Libya even more armed and dangerous and would reward the same countries who had already sold arms to Libya so indiscriminately and irresponsibly”.
They also insisted that there is no guarantee that arms reaching rebel forces would be used to protect civilians - the intention of Resolution 1973. They argue that it is very likely that the arrival of arms would make the situation of civilians more perilous, especially if government forces reoccupied rebel-held territory or rebel forces occupied government territory.
“Supplying arms to any group will increase future instability,” said CAAT, pointing out that at this stage it is impossible to say what power structures will emerge on either side or what form future governing bodies will take.
CAAT is one of a number of groups to have noted that arming rebel and opposition groups can have unforeseen long-term consequences, which can bring great harm to societies and militate against peace-building.
One example is the US arming of Mujahideen "freedom" forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, which actively prolonged armed conflicts, led to the growth of armed extremists, including local and foreign Taliban forces, the proliferation of a warlord-based society and the thwarting of the growth of civil society.
In addition, the same weaponry supplied by the US was later used against US and allied forces.
CAAT has long opposed arms sales to Libya, and has consistently drawn attention to the UK government's attempts to promote arms sales to the country, as well as to other undemocratic and abusive states in the region. It has been noted that supplying a regime with weapons tends to give them international credibility.
CAAT continues to urge an international arms embargo on the whole of the Middle East and north Africa, to protect civilians facing repression from governments armed with western weaponry.
Bahraini and Saudi forces, which have suppressed peaceful demonstrations this year, have both bought British weapons in recent years. Saudi forces operating in Bahrain recently suppressed nonviolent protest with armoured vehicles made by BAE Systems in Newcastle.
CAAT emphasise that they want to see the emergence of a democratic and peaceful Libya. They support diplomatic, political and other non-violent moves to protect civilians and to reach a peaceful resolution of the current conflict.