Britain’s Shameful Secret 26 November 2013

The Beatles. Doctor Who. Hugh Laurie. Just some of the UK’s most famous exports, and all things to be proud of. There are some British exports, however, that are less famous: but nonetheless terrifying in their sheer scale and consequences.

There is a profession of people for whom their daily bread is soaked in the blood of human beings from around the world. To line their pockets with wealth, they sell weapons to whoever has the money to buy. Britain is the fifth largest supplier of arms in the world. The US is first; Russia, Germany and France lie in between. This short list of the top 5 arms suppliers make up over three quarters of all arms sales in the world and it should come as little surprise how many are former colonial powers.

Britain’s arms companies are big money. They are so big that the economic recession barely registered on their accounts (most of their buyers were unaffected by the financial woes of gambling Bankers). They are so big that it is more likely that politicians would have to make an appointment to see the directors of these companies, than vice versa. They trade globally with nation states interested in cutting edge British weaponry, and the UK government is committed to helping them along, often more than willing to take diplomatic tours of countries on their behalf (on his first visit to post-revolution Egypt, Cameron was accompanied by Britain’s biggest arms suppliers).

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a ‘Tory’ problem. Almost every British government has colluded in arms sales. Thatcher spent over £1 billion guaranteeing the purchases of Saddam Hussein from UK manufacturers, including arms sales (see the 1996 Scott Report for more info). Of course that was all wasted when Blair invaded Iraq and uprooted Saddam.

Blair famously established relations with Colonel Gaddafi, a relationship which also opened the way for further ‘defense’ deals. By the time Cameron and the international community took action against Gaddafi and his brutal war against his own people, these weapons had already been used in suppressing the Libyan rebels.

Cameron, rather than learn the lessons of his predecessors, was more than happy to sell potentially fatal weapons to Syria, even after the Arab Spring reached Damascus. The government signed off on the sale of several key compounds to the Syrian state in January 2012 – chemical compounds necessary for the production of nerve gas, the specific type of chemical weapon that the Syrian state is suspected to have used against its own people in August 2013. It is almost as if the UK government enjoys selling weapons to a country only to invade them a few short years later.

Just take a moment and consider the above paragraph. British companies are selling dangerous and fatal weapons to nefarious governments across the world, often governments who are more than willing to utilise their weaponry against civilian populations.  They are doing this with the active support (political and financial) of British governments. This is separate to but equally as worrying as the sale of chemicals to the Syrian state that may have been used in the production of chemical weapons. A worrying number of our elected political representatives are simply arms salesman.

Tracking arms sales only reveals further geopolitical collusion. Figures published by the Committees on Arms Export Controls are regularly collated and released by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. The figures detail the current licenses granted to countries, and thus represent arms deals that have taken place, are taking place or will take place in a time period of several years.

Israel buys the largest amount (by far) of British weapons, spending over £7,962,585,488. These weapons are routinely used against a besieged Palestinian population. Saudi Arabia purchases a healthy £4,106,489,526 – mere pocket change for the Saudi Royal Family. Need we be reminded that Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records for human and civil rights abuses in the world?

Well, perhaps not as bad as China, who happen to buy £2,611,293,406 from the UK. Any political posturing the British government does with regard to Israeli military aggression or Chinese political repression is severely undermined by their direct or indirect sales of weapons to these countries. It is a performance that goes on under the noses of the British public.

Arms sales can even trump British foreign policy. William Hague talks of arming Syrian rebels while there are £277,177,344 of arms sales being made with Russia and £1,521,867,526 Iran. Both countries are openly supporting Assad and providing him with weaponry and support. The UK government is certainly well aware that British weaponry may end up being used in Syria by both Assad loyalists and rebel factions.

I find all of this deeply disturbing, as should any other human being with a conscience. While the UK government may talk of humanitarian interventions, it allows dangerous arms sales to continue.

It’s time for me, and any Brit reading this, to come to a realisation – there are people in this country who see Britain as a warmonger, and are happy to profit from the misery of violence and destruction. We may not see it, but the weapons being sold by Britain are the tools of oppression for many. At some point, we can no longer ignore it and we have to say “no” to arms sales.

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About Lucy Smith

Lucy Smith works as a campaigner against the arms trade and is currently studying for a Masters in International Relations in London.

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