Human rights violations are committed in Yemen by Saudi Arabia yet it remains the UK arms industry’s biggest customer, having agreed orders for £3.5bn of military hardware since the start of 2015.
Raytheon’s factories in Essex and Scotland produce the Paveway IV guided bomb which, according to its manufacturer, has been “put to the test in every major conflict” and proved itself “time and again, as the weapon of choice by the end users”. One enthusiastic end user is Saudi Arabia. Evidence has been emerging from the rubble of Yemen that UK-manufactured weapons – including Paveway bombs – have been used in the campaign. The nature of the targets appear to corroborate claims that the Saudis are targeting civilian infrastructure, a breach of international human rights law.
“It’s not just that the Saudis have used these weapons in Yemen: Human Rights Watch has determined that they have been used unlawfully and that the weapons used in the strikes were UK-produced,” said Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.
The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, said, “There is such an overwhelming body of evidence that the Saudis have committed breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen that the UK government can no longer rely on their rather weak reassurances, and should instead initiate their own review to confirm, in my view, that there have been breaches which would require them to stop arms sales to Saudi.”
The UK won defence orders worth £7.7bn last year. It now has about 12% of the global defence export market and, over the last decade, has shored up its position as the second largest arms exporter in the world.
The government’s own figures suggest that the global defence export market in 2015 was worth around $100bn, a 17% increase on 2014. As the market has expanded, successive governments have gone to extraordinary lengths to promote the sector. The Middle East is considered by the government to be a priority market. Two-thirds of all arms exports go to the region. In the last two years the UK has agreed arms deals worth £388m with the United Arab Emirates, £170m with Qatar, £120m with Oman and £24m with Bahrain. Other countries with questionable human rights records have also become major customers. In the last three years the UK has sold £450m of arms to Turkey, despite its increasing authoritarianism and political instability, and £116m of weaponry to Egypt, despite its recent coup and worsening human rights situation. It has also signed major contracts to supply missiles to Malaysia and Thailand.
KEY CLIENTS FOR UK ARMS
The UK licensed £82m of arms to Tel Aviv while David Cameron was in office. The government acknowledged UK arms had “almost certainly” been used in bombarding Gaza in 2009, in a conflict that saw both sides accused of war crimes.
In the last three years the UK has licensed to Ankara almost £450m of arms, including components for military aircraft, helicopters and targeting equipment. In the past year the Turkish military has been engaged in a ferocious conflict with the country’s Kurdish minority.
Since the military coup in July 2013, the UK has licensed more than £115m of arms, including machine guns and assault rifles, as well as a £40m licence for combat vehicles. In 2011, Cairo used UK-provided teargas against protesters.
Since the Arab spring, the UK has licensed £50m of arms, including hundreds of machine guns and thousands of assault rifles. Last February, Bahraini security forces were accused of quashing pro-democracy demonstrations using teargas and water cannon.
Tony Blair intervened to prevent an investigation into arms exports to Saudi Arabia; Cameron assiduously courted Saudi royalty; earlier this year the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, led a UK delegation to Qatar to promote sales of the Eurofighter jet.