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Jenkins on the arms trade

As background to the following and of relevance to Iraq: the biggest buyer
of arms last year was Saudi Arabia, with $7.9 billion in new sales; the
United Arab Emirates ranked second at $2.5 billion.  Among sellers, the U.S.
was first with $7.1 billion in new arms deals ... $4.6 billion of U.S. sales
went to developing countries.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

Merchant in mayhem

by Simon Jenkins
The Times of London
September 17, 1999

Gun control? Britain is a world leader when it comes to killing 
Yesterday saw another serial killing in America, and another gift to British
smugness about primitive, dangerous, gun-toting America. Can these tinpot
John Waynes not understand, we cry, that their equation of guns and freedom
merely kills people? Can they not see that all the homespun communitarianism
in the world is helpless against a mail-order semi-automatic? What value
democracy, when it can be gunned down by a single-interest lobby? 

That feels better. Now switch to home. This past week Britain's own National
Rifle Association, otherwise known as the Department of Trade and Industry,
showed that Britain's gun control is about as lax as America's, at least on
the non-domestic front. The DTI supposedly regulates the biggest per capita
arms exporter in the world, that is, Britain. In a glaring conflict of
interest, it also represents the arms industry. This week it sponsored a
huge arms fair at Chertsey, Surrey, inviting at least 30 countries whose
human rights records fail the Amnesty seal of approval. Every British
diplomat is trained as an arms salesman. Every arms manufacturer is given
the services, free, of military attachés the world over. Every time a Prime
Minister goes overseas, the gleam of an arms deal is in his eye. Do they
worry where the weapons go? My dear chap, guns don't kill people, foreigners

British foreign policy has long been a confection of self-interest spiced by
opportunism and cling-wrapped in sanctimony. When the Foreign Secretary,
Robin Cook, in a former guise, was conducting his pavement rants outside the
arms-for-Iraq inquiry, I wondered how he would handle the same issue when in
power. Would he withdraw the Foreign Office from its key role in marketing
British weapons? Would he expel the defence salesmen from his embassies? The
answer is no. From Sierra Leone to Indonesia, from Eritrea to Angola, from
mighty China to puny Kosovo, the arms have flowed. Gun control is suddenly
for wimps, so long as only foreigners get hurt. As "Cool-Hand" Cook might
put it, ground attack jets don't kill people, pilots do. 

To be fair to Mr Cook, when he took office he did institute a review of arms
exports to avoid another arms-for-Iraq fiasco. He at once found himself
crossing missiles with George Robertson at the Defence Ministry and Peter
Mandelson at the DTI. The Defence Ministry would sell a cluster bomb to a
football hooligan if it could get away with it. Even the bullish Alan Clark
despaired at his officials' love affairs with expensive weaponry: "I would
fire the lot of them. Out. Out," he wrote in a rage. The DTI was no better.
It feared Mr Cook's review might impede trade and spoil its arms fairs. In
other words, Labour ministers wanted to keep secret what they knew could not
bear the light of publicity. 

Mr Cook persisted. His first report on arms sales was published last March
and made ghoulish reading. Britain sells helicopter missiles to Turkey,
baton rounds to Kuwait, cluster bombs to Ecuador, smoke grenades to
Colombia, "crowd control ammunition" to Bangladesh, "dual-use goods" to
Iran, small arms to Bahrain, a complete military arsenal to China,
sub-machine-guns to the Philippines and Mexico, body armour to Indonesia,
assault rifles to Kenya, machine-gun silencers to Pakistan and
air-to-surface missiles to the Gulf States. It sells Hawk ground attack
aircraft and naval helicopters to Indonesia, complete with "machine-gun
spares and ammunition". Britain's large defence sales office in Jakarta did
not vanish, as Mr Cook in Opposition implied it would when he came to power.
Britain is arming both India and Pakistan, both China and Taiwan, both Peru
and Ecuador, as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa. It is merchant in mayhem
by appointment to the world. 

The ethical approach to arms exports holds that they should not go to states
that are at war, are unstable or might use them for "internal repression".
Everyone has an interest in foggying this definition, except the repressed.
An audit of the arms trade, by the think-tank Saferworld, points to a paper
mountain of licences given by the Labour Government in defiance of its own
rules, to regimes riven with war and human rights violations, including
Colombia, Sri Lanka, Angola and Pakistan. So-called riot control gear was
sent to Indonesia during the well-publicised repression in East Timor. The
Foreign Office justification was that it would "protect members of the
security forces from violence". Not content with dropping cluster bombs -
landmines, in effect - over Kosovo and Iraq, the Cabinet is selling these
appalling weapons to South America. Licences go to states known as
long-standing re-exporters, such as Jordan and Singapore. 

Selling arms to authoritarian countries is as immoral as imposing sanctions
on poor ones. Both policies usually do more harm than good. In both cases,
the true "end user" is a human being shot, bombed, maimed, impoverished or
starved. Over the past quarter century Britain has shipped billions of
pounds' worth of arms to the Middle East, supposedly to stabilise the region
and protect oil supplies. They have done neither. In 1990 Kuwait and its
neighbours were too scared to use their vast arsenals against Saddam
Hussein. The West had to bail them out. 

During South African sanctions, weapons poured through Israel and Chile,
with dud end-user certificates. They did the same during the conflict in
Yugoslavia. Everyone knew what was happening, except the public. One virtue
of the elephantine Scott Report on arms for Iraq was to lay bare this moral
quagmire of euphemism, hypocrisy, half-truth and stupefying wealth. The
message was clear. In Whitehall, ministerial and official machismo was
hopelessly bound up with exporting every weapon in sight. The only restraint
was a vague moral "yuk" test and "don't get caught". 

This week the DTI had to admit it had underwritten the £130 million cost of
British jets for Indonesia. The money, said the DTI's Stephen Byers, "would
not go to the Government of Indonesia". This displays Mr Byers's well-known
sense of humour. The money goes to British Aerospace; the jets go to
Indonesia. A guarantee is a subsidy. British taxpayers are helping to supply
these weapons and thus sustaining these regimes. Mr Byers's claim that he
cannot stop contracts for fear of incurring charges or losing jobs, even if
true, may win an alpha for commercial self-interest. It wins gamma minus for
ethics. Such is the crazed world of aid for trade. 

The sole purpose of these weapons is to support governments that might
otherwise fall, by giving them the means to kill people. I cannot imagine a
trade to which the word ethical is less applicable. We manufacture weapons
for our own defence, knowing that we elect their custodians and trust them
with their use. Selling them overseas weakens that caveat and that trust.
Purchasers should therefore be subject to even more stringent tests of good
behaviour than we would apply to ourselves. This means that, in general, we
should not export arms, in the same way that, in general, we should not
interfere in the affairs of foreign states. If other countries wish to cash
in on the arms trade, so be it. An immoral act does not become moral because
someone else wants to do it, too. 

A furious conventional arms race is now the chief cause of misery in central
Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and South-East Asia. Any
dictator, or any dissident movement, can walk into any bazaar and buy guns
off the shelf. Controls are inadequate and spares plentiful. British Labour
governments once believed in disarmament - apparently no more. 

The only "ethical" policy is not to make or sell these wretched things, to
go one small step down the road to sanity. If he is not of this mind, Mr
Cook should never use the E-word again. This week we have seen that the arms
lobby is as powerful in Whitehall as in the gun shops of America.

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