Monday, January 15, 2018

The UK Arms Trade

Prior to his resignation last year, former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon vowed at the world’s largest arms fair in London that Britain would “spread its wings across the world” with increased weaponry and equipment sales.

Fox’s Department for International Trade said he will “personally lead on helping the defence and security industries to export”.

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Britain has dramatically increased the value of weaponry and defence equipment it sells to the world’s most repressive regimes since vows by senior ministers to expand arms exports.

 Figures show that the Government cleared export licences worth £2.9bn in the 12 months after June 2016 to 35 countries considered “not free” by Freedom House, a respected international think-tank. Critics argue Britain is turning a blind eye to abuses in some of its export markets.

Among the countries to which ministers have given the green light for military equipment sales are Equatorial Guinea, considered to be one of the most corrupt and repressive countries in the world. Licences worth £1m were also granted for Azerbaijan, accused by human rights campaigners of conducting a vicious campaign against freedom of expression, while Uzbekistan, which is rated by Freedom House as one of the least free countries in the world, was granted a licence to import military vehicle components worth nearly £200,000.

But campaigners claim that official figures for defence export licences raise worrying questions that Britain is “prioritising arms sales to tyrants” as it seeks new markets abroad. Much of the increase in sales to authoritarian countries is accounted for by a £1.1bn deal signed with Oman last June for combat aircraft and components. But the data shows that the UK also granted licences to sell tear gas to the Gulf country, which is accused of cracking down on freedom of assembly, as well as anti-riot equipment to Thailand and crowd control ammunition to the United Arab Emirates. Despite a military coup in Thailand in 2014 and subsequent criticism of heavy-handed army control, UK military exports to the country quadrupled to £16m last year.

Britain biggest single export market remains Saudi Arabia, with licences worth £1.12bn granted last year amid continuing condemnation of British weaponry by the kingdom in its bombing campaign in Yemen.

Among the largest arms sales increases was a doubling to £31m of export licences to Bahrain, which has been criticised for its repression of  pro-democracy protests, and a year-on-year increase of £90m in sales to the UAE.

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the select committee on arms control exports, explained, "In value, Britain’s arms exports are worth about the same as its exports in beverages. This plan is less a plan for improving British public finances in the wake of Brexit but more one for lining the pockets of the shareholders of British arms dealers. It is another policy designed to benefit the few over the many.”

Britain has also been reinforcing its military ties with the controversial leadership in countries including Turkey and the Philippines. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox this weekend visited Turkey, with which Britain signed a £100m military aircraft deal last year.

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