FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Arms-for-Dictators: a Bi-Partisan Tradition

by JAMES ELLIOTT

The fringe issue of arms export criteria became headline news today, with the Independent’s splash on an ‘arms for dictators’ scandal. A parliamentary report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls raised a few eyebrows, but the embarrassment of the government approving arms sales to 25 out of 27 of the countries blacklisted as human rights abusers will soon vanish.

Of the 3,000 export licenses our government has approved, many have gone to Russia and Iran, who both support and arm the Syrian government. Items have been sent to Sri Lanka, Belarus, China and Zimbabwe – all of which feature prominently on the Foreign Office’s list of states with worrying civil rights records.

David Cameron is known for this. Only two weeks ago I wrote about his trip to the dictatorship of Kazakhstan with arms firm Rolls-Royce, where he boasted about British trade prospects. This follows on from Cameron’s tours of the gulf, where he has joined with arms firms to sell weapons to regimes who repress democracy. During the Arab spring in Bahrain and Egypt, demonstrators have been attacked with British-made tear gas, smoke canisters and demolition charges. Cameron’s arms-dealing jollies were interrupted by the Libyan Revolution, and the revoking of arms exports was a post-facto admission he was very wrong to have sold them in the first place. This dirty record was already known, for example, Amnesty have said that, “In 2009 the Saudi air force used UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers in attacks in Yemen which killed hundreds – possibly thousands – of civilians.”

For Conservatives who love to harp on about the strong rule of law, or Lib Dems who present themselves as the party of human rights, this makes for uncomfortable reading. Protecting democracy and human rights is supposed to be non-partisan, uncontroversial and supported by all. But it seems that the only thing non-partisan about human rights is that their violation through arms exports receives cross-party support, and Labour supporters have little to feel smug about given our own party’s track record.

The atrocious arms policy of Tony Blair is best explained by monitoring sales to Israel. When the Second Intifada broke out, the value of UK military export licences to Israel almost doubled from £12.5m in 2000 to £22.5m in 2001. Did this prove a good strategy? Between 2000 and 2010, 6371 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, half of whom were not participating in hostilities.

After Blair’s departure, the silent scandal continued, as David Miliband was forced to admit that British components were used in Operation Cast Lead, an attack on the Gaza strip in 2008-9 which left 1,400 Palestinians dead, and saw Israel accused of war crimes by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the UN. This cosiness looks set to continue if Labour wins in 2015, as I have argued in the wake of the recent Labour Friends of Israel lunch and Douglas Alexander’s hawkish speech.

Israel was not the only recipient of Labour’s bloodstained generosity. The genocidal General Suharto, who devastated East Timor, tends to stick in the memory, while China and even Assad’s Syria were invited to arms fairs.

Because the arms industry is given a £700m subsidy, all of us, as taxpayers, voters and citizens, are collectively responsible for these outrages. There is nothing exclusively ‘left-wing’ about supporting human rights, but the conflict between rights and business proves too much for some.

In fact, it is the relationship between business, politics and the law that needs to be re-examined here. It is clearly unacceptable to have a situation where Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi, is allowed to help flog BAE’s £46bn arms sales to that dictatorship, only to get a job with BAE afterwards.

To cut out this damaging collusion between business and politics to ignore human rights, we need to stop thinking of this as a political scandal, or an embarrassment, and treat it as a serious violation of the law. Judges need to be empowered to issue arrest warrants for executives of arms companies who sell weapons irresponsibly, and the politicians who approve the export licenses should join them in the dock.

James Elliott is a freelance journalist living in England.

 

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail