Did you know that arms sales are the UK’s number one export? Without its military industrial complex footing the Bill, The Land of Hope and Glory’s socialist economy would collapse. No wonder the left-leaning political press (e.g., the guardian.co.uk) aren’t exactly up-in-arms about arms sales to repressive regimes. “How can Britain, one of the world’s leading arms exporters, honour its stated commitment to promote human rights throughout the world?” the lede leads. “With difficulty,” it pronounces. What follows is the journalistic equivalent of a mild rebuke. Kinda like torture via fifty lashes with a wet noodle. To wit:
Vince Cable, the business secretary, has admitted as much. “We do trade with governments that are not democratic and have bad human rights records”, he told a crossparty group of senior MPs. “We do business with repressive governments and there’s no denying that”.
Cable’s refreshing admission of what we all know anyway did not satisfy members of the Commons committee on arms export controls on Tuesday night, not least the chairman, the former Conservative defence minister, Sir John Stanley. He accused the government of adopting a “rosy tinted” and “over optimistic” view of “authoritarian regimes”.
The MPs were questioning Cable and William Hague, the foreign secretary, about Whitehall’s approval of exports, including crowd control ammunition, guns and ammunition to Libya, Bahrain, and Egypt, in the period leading up to the Arab Spring last year. The MPs also raised questions about reports that Saudi Arabia sent troops in British trucks to Bahrain during the protests in the Gulf state last year.
Hey, who knew? Maybe . . . lots of people. Back in April of last year, the right-leaning Daily Mail reported that UK approved £2.3bn in arms exports over 21 months. What’s more:
Military export licenses to Libya alone since the start of 2009 totalled £61.3million, according to Department for Business figures.
The UK also awarded Bahrain £6million of licences covering submachine guns, sniper rifles, CS hand grenades, smoke canisters, stun grenades and riot control agents. At least 26 citizens have been killed and 1,000 injured as the Gulf state cracked down on freedom campaigners.
Britain also approved arms licenses totalling £1.7billion to Saudi Arabia, £20.4million to Egypt, £276.9million to Algeria and £52.8million to the United Arab Emirates.
Body armour and night vision goggles have been approved for Yemen, small arms ammunition for Syria, and sniper rifles, aircraft components and armoured personnel carriers for Saudi Arabia.
According to aljazeera.com, the U.S. racked-up $1.1b worth of arms sales to five slightly dodgy Middle Eastern countries in the same time period. I guess you never really know about these Arab Spring fling things. Back to today’s Guardian:
Under official UK guidelines, no arms exports would be allowed that would exacerbate regional conflict or be used for internal oppression. “We don’t have perfect foresight”, Cable told the MPs.
Hague went further. “In the case of Libya no one predicted what was going to happen”, he said as though Gaddafi had only turned into a dictator last year after Libyans in Benghazi began to rise up.
As far as Saudi Arabia was concerned, he said the government had raised concerns about its treatment of women and foreign workers. But 99 percent of Britain’s exports to the Kingdom consisted of Typhoon jets. “They are not relevant to our concerns about these rights”, said Hague.
And Saudi forces were sent into Bahrain last year “to guard installations but not to take part in dealing with unrest in Bahrain so they did not fall foul [of the export guidelines]”.
So what did we learn today? Money walks and bullshit talks. No surprise there. Now, can we talk about how official United States arms sales to the Mexican government and police have armed narco-terrorists? No. Good day then.