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UK: Parliament questions arms exports to flashpoints

18th Jul 2013

A parliamentary committee in the UK has said the British government issued 3,000 licenses to export military equipment, worth more than $18 billion, to the 27 countries London considers possible human rights violators.

According to a parliament report released on Wednesday, Britain has 3,074 current licenses for the export of military equipment, much of which also has civilian applications, just to the countries Prime Minister David Cameron’s government considers liable to violate human rights.

The House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls said these extant arms export licenses were worth a total of 12.33 billion pounds (14.6 billion euros, $18.6 billion).

“As we have stressed in our Report, a considerable number of the extant strategic export to the FCO’s [Foreign and Commonwealth Office's] Countries of Human Rights concern will be for dual-use goods (military or civilian use), or military goods not readily usable for internal repression,” said the chairman of the committees, Sir John Stanley. “However, the total number of such licenses is surprisingly large.”

Stanley said that his team would be inspecting some of the deals further, saying they would check whether the deals conformed with a promise from Foreign Secretary William Hague that the UK government would not issue licenses for goods “which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

The chairman also said that the extent of the sales to countries of concern “puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the Government’s arms exports and human rights policies.”

From Afghanistan, via Israel, to Zimbabwe

Of the 27 countries highlighted as a concern by Britain, only North Korea and South Sudan had no current military export licenses.

Countries with the most current deals included China, with 1,163 licenses worth 1.49 billion pounds; Saudi Arabia, with 417 worth 1.86 billion and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, with 381 worth 7.88 billion pounds. One single license to Israel granted earlier this year accounted for more than half of all the current exports to the 27 countries, it was labeled as for “equipment employing cryptography and software for equipment employing cryptography.”

Even Syria – whose government is staunchly opposed by Cameron and Hague – had three deals worth a little less than 150,000 pounds, while Iran’s current contracts were worth over 800 million pounds.

“Our sanctions on Iran are extremely tough and we do not export to Iran anything that conflicts with the sanctions agreed at the United Nations or in the European Union,” William Hague said on Wednesday. “I think people can be confident in our export controls, they are among the toughest in the world.”

The licenses are awarded for what the government classes as “strategic controlled goods,” many of which have dual military and civilian use. Various products from sectors including telecommunications can fall into this category as “cryptography” equipment. Small arms, assault rifles, sniper rifles and body armor were among the more traditional military equipment included.

Sir John Stanley’s group also asked for more information on deals with countries beyond the 27 listed, including Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Madagascar and Tunisia. The Committees on Arms Export Controls is made up of the House of Commons’ defense, foreign affairs, international development and business, innovation and skills committees.

msh/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Sectarianism in the Middle East and its rise in the UK, Standpoint, Sahar TV. Interview 29 May 2013 and aired on 12 June 2013

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