“You must not fight too often with one enemy
or you will teach him all your art of war.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Last week the European Parliament voted in favour of an EU embargo on selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Although non-binding, it remains nonetheless an interesting attitude taken by a trading block which in 2013 made €36 billion in arms export licenses. The attitude is not without reason however. Saudi Arabia has been involved in a conflict with Houthi rebels in Yemen for over a year resulting in bombings of a number of Medicines Sans Frontier hospitals, the deaths of thousands of civilians and the use of internationally outlawed cluster bombs. This embargo has come late in the day but it is still a positive action.
The UK Parliament’s International Development Committee has called for the UK to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Last year, the UK supplied almost £3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. British military forces have also been involved in training Saudi pilots who carried out airstrikes. These Saudi pilots were offered 100 Bentleys by a billionaire prince as a reward for their work. David Cameron has long been accused of secretly involving the UK in a war of which we should have no part but has rejected this suggestion during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Needless to say, the rest of the government hasn’t displayed a progressive attitude. Hours after the vote, Minsters attended the ADS Group dinner at the Hilton. ADS is an industry trade body that represents defence and security industries. ADS members include BAE Systems, the builder of Eurofighter and Tornado jets, as well Raytheon UK which builds guided bombs. Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest customer for weapons so this is hardly surprising. Yet it is the blatant fashion in which ministers ignore the death tolls and the violence. Despite calls from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that there is a humanitarian disaster happening in Yemen, it appears that business comes first. Despite world conflicts consisting of nearly 90% civilian casualties, 40% of them children, there has yet to be a serious debate.
The arms industry is without morals; it has no conscience. The connections between this industry and the political establishment should be an embarrassment for a government that claims to care about human rights. As austerity measures hit the military – George Osborne ordered £1 billion worth of cuts last year – private companies are stepping in to fill the void. Weapons manufacturers are reaping the benefits, and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of them which is no wonder considering the government support they receive.
Research carried out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAP) found that approximately £700 million in government subsidies are provided to arms companies every year. Marketing and promotion support is provided by the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) and financing is given by the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD). Support consists of military personnel being made available to help with bids and arranging visits with government ministers and officials. While making up 2% of exports, 50% of the work done by the ECGD covers the arms industry. The government insists on using British companies to supply its military, often at a greater cost.
Is this really how we want to be viewed by the rest of the world? Judged by our ability and readiness to put our war machine into motion?
Despite being a critic of Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe, the UK government still granted arms export licenses to Zimbabwe so as to protect the reputation of British arms firms. Arms also continue to be sold to countries which continuously violate human rights like Qatar, Bahrain and others in Africa.
How long will our government continue to act in this way? The EU vote is unlikely to stem the tide of weapons flooding wars zones and creating new conflicts. Our politicians should surely be held accountable for their questionable actions. The arms industry is not a financial advantage for our economy, only employing approximately 90,000 people yet costing over £700 million in subsidies with jobs regularly going abroad. Arms industry experts often attend government officials foreign trips to boost their business.
Is this really how we want to be viewed by the rest of the world? Judged by our ability and readiness to put our war machine into motion? As usual, the establishment carries on with its corporate duties, denying care and assistance to its own people whilst willingly piling onto a bloated, soulless industry that couldn’t care less about who its products affect. War is a business, that much is obvious but it has successfully entangled itself with those who control the purse strings. The rate at which arms firms line their pockets with taxpayers money and profit from predominantly killing civilians in any number of despicable ways is a stain on every country that participates in this business.
Two ex-defence Secretaries, Geoff Hoon and John Ried, have gone on to hold prominent positions in arms firms. Former junior military minster Ann Taylor left for Thales at the end of 2010. Admiral Sir Alan West, former First Sea Lord, ended up at QinetiQ’s Defence Advisory Board. The list goes on but you get the message. The people who are entrusted with this countries safety and prosperity use the government and military as a springboard to better paydays. And we, the taxpayer, have funded their journey. President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning in 1961 is coming true.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
See also: https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/influence
Featured Image © Polyp