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Trump's deals with Saudi Arabia will fuel the war in Yemen

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Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 May 2017. © Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

The arms deals should not be viewed in isolation, they will make an unstable region even more dangerous, Andrew Smith writes.

Donald Trump is a man who is known for doing things on a bigger scale than anyone else. He is a man who specialises in the grandiose and garish. That is why it should come as no surprise that his much-hyped visit to Saudi Arabia led to one of the biggest arms deals in history.

On Saturday Trump and the Saudi Royal Family agreed a $110 billion package of weapons, believed to include tanks, helicopters, bombs and armoured vehicles. There is no doubt that these weapons will be used in the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, a bombing campaign that has endured for two brutal years.

The conflict is often referred to as a ‘forgotten war’ but the impacts have been devastating. Over 10,000 people have been killed, vital infrastructure has been destroyed, including schools and hospitals, and diseases have set-in.

A cholera outbreak has seen thousands of suspected cases being identified in the last week, having spread across 18 of the 22 regions that make up Yemen. The situation could not be more desperate, with a recent UNICEF report finding that a child is dying of preventable causes every 10 minutes.

Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, there was little focus on aid. It wasn’t mentioned once in Trump’s keynote address. The only times that the word Yemen passed Trump’s lips were when he praised his Saudi forces for the ‘strong’ actions they had taken.

Another phrase he refused to utter was human rights. Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records in the world, something Trump acknowledged when running for president: when he accused the regime of enslaving women and killing LGBT people.

The deal was cemented by a ceremonial sword dance, a strange photo shoot with an orb and a series of remarks that simultaneously pledged that ‘above all, America seeks peace not war’ while also calling for an escalation of conflict in the region.

The war-warmongering and arms deals should not be viewed in isolation. Trump may only have been in power for four months, but in that time he has already escalated air strikes in Iraq, killing hundreds of civilians, overseen a disastrous air strike in Yemen that killed 70 people, taken unilateral military action in Syria and dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan.

Donald Trump may have been elected on the back of isolationism and a war-weary US public, but the early signs are the his foreign policy will take a ‘bomb first, ask later’ direction that replicates the worst excesses of the Bush administration.

Of course the US is not alone in arming and supporting the Saudi dictatorship. It also enjoys the backing of countries all over Europe – including the UK, which has licensed over £3 billion worth of fighter jets and bombs to Saudi forces since the war began. Arms sales only fuel and exacerbate tensions, particularly when sold to human rights abusers and into war zones.

At present, the legality of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia is being reviewed by the High Court in London, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade. A verdict is expected in the near future.

Irrespective of the outcome, it is more vital than ever that we keep up pressure to scrutinise, challenge and end the UK’s political and military support for Saudi Arabia, and its unbending alliance with the Trump presidency.

RELATED: UK General Election: What are the foreign policy implications?

Trump will be arriving in the UK this October for a follow-up to May’s hand holding visit to Washington DC. Protests have already been called, and we need to do all we can to make sure they are as big as possible.

Unfortunately there is a lot of damage Trump can do between now and then, and there is every reason to believe the UK will do all it can to help him.

When asked if the UK would be prepared to back the US in further unilateral air strikes against Syria, Boris Johnson told Radio 4 that ‘it would be very difficult to say no.’ He then indicated that would even be prepared to do so without the backing of Parliament.

This kind of uncritical support and blind loyalty to US interventionism has been shown to lead to disasters. The combination of unrestrained US militarism and a president with the temperament of Donald Trump is not one that can fill progressive people with hope.

The Trump roadshow may have moved on: with Israel, the Occupied Territories, the Vatican and a NATO event in Brussels on the agenda in the days ahead. The celebratory banners welcoming him to Riyadh will soon but taken down, but the outcomes of his visit will not be forgotten, and they will be felt by the people of Yemen for years to come.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

See our interview with WikiLeaks’ Editor Julian Assange: What the Saudi leaks tell us. Our March 2016 magazine took a special look at Saudi Arabia. Read the keynote ‘Our friends': Saudi Arabia and the West’ by NI co-editor Vanessa Baird.

Rethinking what we mean by security

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An aerial image of Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. GCHQ is one of the three UK Intelligence Agencies and forms a crucial part of the Britain’s National Intelligence and Security machinery. GCHQ under a Creative Commons Licence

Andrew Smith considers the establishment meaning of the word relative to social wellbeing, peace and health.

The word security is one that is thrown around a lot by politicians and journalists, but only usually in the context of the military and policing. What does it mean beyond that? What is security? What are the threats to Britain’s security? How should they be addressed? What level of resources, including financial, should be devoted to them?

All too often, security is discussed as though it were synonymous with military strength. It is not. Many imminent and major threats, such as climate change, energy security, global health scares and economic marginalization, are not military. Furthermore, a militaristic mind-set can actually decrease security by prioritizing military solutions to problems, increasing the likelihood of armed conflict.

At the moment the government is in the final stages of preparing its National Security Strategy (NSS), and Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR), both of which are expected to be published this month. The two reviews, which are being undertaken simultaneously, will form the basis for British military and security strategy going forward.

Unfortunately, if the government’s response to the last NSS (published in October 2010) is anything to go by, it is unlikely to lead to any new thinking.

The last report did address non-military threats, but very little changed. It cited international terrorism, cyber-attacks, major accidents, natural hazards and an international military crisis affecting Britain as the priority threats, only the last of which might require a military response. This year’s reports are likely to consider the same factors, but also to focus on Russia and ISIS.

In order to have an impact, the allocation of resources that follows it should match the identified threats. In 2010 it didn’t and the status-quo prevailed. Over the last five years the pro-military lobby, including former government ministers, has ran a high-profile campaign that successfully argued for military spending of 2% of GDP. One result was the government’s decision to continue allocating billions of pounds to expensive long-term procurement projects such as Trident and aircraft carriers.

If the goal is to promote peace and security, the strategy must be to address the factors that underpin these threats, and consider what contributes to and exacerbates them. Furthermore, it should examine whether a change in how the government views Britain’s role in the world would have an impact on the threats.

Human rights, global development and tackling climate change need to be put at the centre of policy. For example, many members of the British public, as well as parts of the media and some politicians, view the current refugee crisis as a major threat. However, the people crossing into Europe from Syria, Eritrea and elsewhere are, in most cases, fleeing conflict or repressive rule. Looked at in this way, fences and security personnel are not the answer. Instead, Britain should commit itself to doing all it can to prevent and stop conflict and push for high international standards on human rights.

The Ebola outbreak has been another terrible reminder that a key priority has to be the promotion of health needs. Infectious disease pandemics can kill thousands, disable millions, and disrupt entire economies. As Julio Frenk of the Harvard School of Public Health has argued ‘The absence of good health, generated by the slow-burning persistence of huge inequities around the world, is one of the major causes of global insecurity. The injustice represented by the millions of unnecessary deaths from preventable causes breeds social discontent that may eventually lead to resentment and extremism.’

As well as taking proactive steps, the government needs to ensure it is not taking actions that exacerbate tensions and make things worse.

This means an end to support for bloody interventions. The invasions of Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have killed thousands and destabilized the whole region. Similarly, Britain has backed Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

A key step toward playing a more peaceful role in the world would be an end to arms exports, which are a major factor in entrenching the cynicism that many have of British foreign policy. Successive British governments have called for universal human rights, but this has been totally undermined by their support for dictatorships around the world and an unbending commitment to the promotion of arms sales.

Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, has recently acknowledged that human rights no longer enjoy the same ‘profile’ in his department as they have in the past. The day after McDonald’s statement, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP told delegates at the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair in London that his department would be stepping up its role in arms export promotion.

This week, the Medact Health Through Peace Forum in London will bring hundreds of health professionals and academics together to look at all of these issues and more. This event, which is organized by The Lancet, Medécins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and a range of other groups, aims to provide a much-needed alternative to a vision of security that is fuelled by military spending and interventionism.

Ultimately there needs to be a far broader discussion that goes outside the confines of party politics and the military establishment. Only in this way can we work towards a whole new approach to national security; one that isn’t constantly focused on projecting strength, providing military solutions to all threats and taking part in catastrophic foreign interventions that leave a trail of destruction and do nothing to keep us safe.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

The dark side of the United Arab Emirates

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Shadows on the pavement in Abu Dhabi. Thomas Galvez under a Creative Commons Licence

With its booming tourism industry and growing cultural footprint, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has never enjoyed a greater global influence. But the glamorous modern streets and well-managed public relations campaign hides a far darker side.

Many people in Britain and around the world would associate the UAE with tall, futuristic buildings, elaborate shopping complexes and Arsenal football club (sponsored by Emirates airline). But beneath the veneer of respectability and the carefully cultivated image there is an authoritarian monarchy whose behaviour and beliefs offer a sharp contrast to the liberal and flamboyant image that it likes to project.

I recently spent an afternoon with the Arab Organization for Human Rights at a conference on the human rights situation facing Emirate people. It was there that I met Mohamed Alaradi, a quietly spoken Libyan entrepreneur who was detained without charge and beaten in a secret prison in the UAE. His brother Salim is still there, alongside five others who have been confined for a full 12 months.

Unfortunately these men are not alone. As Human Rights Watch has made clear, the authorities have detained scores of people who have either criticized them or who have been accused of links to domestic or foreign Islamist groups.

The conditions for prisoners are dire. A report from NGO Reprieve found that 75% of prisoners report police torture. Similarly, a number of prisoners, including Ahmed Zeidan, a British student from Reading, have reported making a false confession under torture.

>These numbers are likely to have increased since last August, when the Emirate authorities introduced new ‘anti-terror’ laws that further criminalized political dissent. Every act that the law prohibits is treated as a terrorist offence, which advocacy groups believe could lead to terrorism charges and extended prison sentences for peaceful protesters. The crackdown has happened in tandem with the introduction of far-reaching cyber-crime laws, which have seen threats of deportation for those that have criticized the government.

It’s not just political resistance that is punished. There are also serious concerns about the working conditions of migrant workers. An investigation by The Observer found that labourers working on New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus were having their passports withheld, being made to work in squalid conditions and facing threats of deportation if they went on strike.

Unfortunately, these problems are not exclusive to that site and are well documented and widespread. The conditions in labour camps have been criticized by the International Trade Union Confederation, which has described the abuses as ‘systematic’, and by Indian Prime Minister Nadendra Modi, who has called for an end to the ‘rampant exploitation’ of the 2.6 million Indian migrant workers in the UAE.

Regardless of these abuses, the monarchy has spent recent years building its global brand and strengthening its international alliances. It has taken part in the destructive Saudi-led bombing of Yemen and has reinforced its ties to a number of Western countries, including through high-profile meetings with US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. The latter used his visit to agree a joint defence partnership.

All of these political relationships are underpinned by close military ones, fuelled by the UAE’s increasing military spending. In 2014 the small state was the fourth biggest arms importer in the world, with $2.2 billion in imports. Its military budget has been steadily increasing year on year since 2011; a trend that’s only expected to continue.

Throughout 2013, the British government was very active in lobbying the Emirate military to buy Eurofighter jets. The campaign was unsuccessful, but it enjoyed the full support of Whitehall and included representations from David Cameron, defence secretary Philip Hammond, and leading civil servants. Despite this setback, relations have improved, with $142 million of arms sales in the 15 months since, according to published figures. If military and dual-use licences are taken together, then the UAE is the world’s largest buyer of British military equipment, with the last government having approved $9.5 billion worth of licences.

This has been encouraged by an extensive lobbying exercise from the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organization, the civil-service body responsible for promoting arms exports, which met with UAE military representatives at the recent Security and Policing and Farnborough International arms fairs. At the last two arms fairs alone they met with UAE officials 5 times, more meetings than with any other country. The UAE is a regular attendee of British arms fairs and is almost certain to be among the guests at DSEI 2015, one of the world’s biggest arms fair, when it rolls into London in mid-September.

As long as countries like Britain use their global influence to arm and promote the regime, the chances of any meaningful reform and human rights for Emirate people are likely to be further eroded. Western arms sales and political support don’t just boost the monarchy; they also send a message that it can continue its policy of arbitrary detention and labour abuses.

It is impossible to support arms sales and dictatorships at the same time as supporting human rights and democracy. Even Sir John Stanley, the former Conservative Defence Minister and Chair of the Commons Arms Export Committee in the last parliament, understood that when he called for ‘significantly more cautious judgement’ when selling arms to authoritarian governments.

Until Britain stops selling arms to the UAE and other authoritarian states, it is actively undermining all of its rhetoric about supporting human rights and democracy. People like Mohamed and Salim Alaradi may not be household names, but they are suffering at the coalface of Emirate oppression and they deserve our support and solidarity.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATUK

What the hack?

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Cyber security or spyware? The distinction isn't always clear. www.perspecsys.com under a Creative Commons Licence

The recent Hacking Team leak illustrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the arms trade, writes Andrew Smith.

There was something wonderfully ironic about surveillance and spyware specialists Hacking Team being hacked. It made for amusing headlines, but it also highlighted a number of issues with the so-called ‘cyber-security’ industry.

Over a million internal emails and documents were leaked online, revealing the inner workings and secrets of a dishonest and scurrilous company that has been all too happy to use its connections and influence to lobby governments, obstruct UN investigations and spread misinformation about what it is selling and to whom. Despite widespread condemnation, it has always claimed to be an ethical company; but with a client base that includes the governments of Uzbekistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia it is clear that human rights have always come second to profits.

Hacking Team may market itself as a ‘cyber-security’ company, but none of its tools are actually designed to stop cyber-attacks or increase security; they are designed to allow buyers to hack into the computer networks of their opponents and spy on them. The marketing materials for the company’s flagship Galileo Remote Control System makes this clear:

“Take control of your targets and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility... Keep an eye on all your targets and manage them remotely, all from a single screen.”

Hacking Team’s founder David Vincenzetti has offered the defence that ‘the geopolitical [landscape] changes rapidly, and sometimes situations evolve. But we do not trade in weapons, we do not sell guns that can be used for years.’

He may not be selling guns or tanks, but the sales he has presided over have had a very real and immediate impact on those on the ground.

There are always serious questions to be asked about civil liberties whenever any government uses surveillance equipment against civilians. These questions become even more pertinent when the governments in question are authoritarian dictatorships and there is even less accountability. This point is acknowledged in an email from one Hacking Team executive, who notes: ‘I don’t think Arab clients take care of legal issues in using our product.’

In 2011 Hacking Team’s account manager for the Middle East sent emails that confirmed the company was looking for business with the Assad government in Syria. This shouldn’t be a surprise; Hacking Team’s equipment has been already linked to the oppressive surveillance of peaceful protesters in Bahrain, journalists in Ethiopia and campaigners in Morocco.

One particular buyer worth drawing attention to is the Sudanese government. Sudan is rightfully subject to a UN and EU-backed arms embargo, and hundreds have been killed during the recent years of instability and armed conflict. Hacking Team has always vehemently denied selling any of its wares to Sudan, but it is listed (alongside Russia) on a spreadsheet of ‘unofficial’ clients. The list is accompanied by an invoice for almost $550,000 from the Sudanese authorities, which suggests there is a strong case to answer.

The leak hasn’t only highlighted the serious moral failings of Hacking Team as a company. It has also illustrated the double standards and hypocrisy at the heart of the arms trade and the so-called ‘security’ industry. Vincenzetti himself has hinted at this in saying: ‘We did [sell tools to Libya] when suddenly it seemed that the Libyans had become our best friends.’ While we can be appalled by his lack of any remorse or sense of personal responsibility, he does have a point. Every single one of these sales has only happened because compliant governments have signed them off.

Like many of its competitors, Hacking Team has always enjoyed very strong government and industry connections. Privacy International alleges that it has received $1.6 million in public financing from the Italian regional authorities. Despite this, the Italian government has acted to curb Hacking Team’s exports in the past, following allegations of human rights abuses. However, the decision was reversed after a sustained lobbying exercise from Vincenzetti and his powerful contacts.

Unfortunately Hacking Team is far from unique. It is all too typical of an industry that is characterized by secrecy, corruption and human rights violations. This is not in any way to excuse Vincenzetti and his team, but they are only one part of a trade that fuels war and oppression while enjoying a totally disproportionate voice in the corridors of power. Spyware and ‘security’ is a loud and growing part of that voice, and it is one that campaigners need to resist.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT @CAATuk.

When will we see a Saudi-Britain split?

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Saudi Hawks during training. Ronnie MacDonald under a Creative Commons Licence

The 10-year jail sentence imposed on Saudi blogger Raif Badawi last year, and the 50 lashes he received in January, rightfully drew international condemnation.

It was a brutal and barbaric sentence for a man whose only ‘crime’ was to question the Saudi government. Badawi still faces the threat of weekly flogging until he has received a total of 1,000 lashes.

Unfortunately, this is only the latest reminder of the dire human rights situation facing Saudi citizens.

The crackdown has been intensifying: the last 12 months have seen the doubling of executions and the introduction of a new ‘terrorism’ law that treats all atheists and political dissidents as enemies of the state.

The terrible conditions being imposed on Saudi people are only one part of the picture.

The other is the humanitarian catastrophe being unleashed by Saudi Arabia on the people of Yemen. As in all wars, it is civilians who are paying the price, with the death toll recently passing 2,000. The destruction of infrastructure has led the World Health Organization to stress that 8.6 million people are ‘in urgent need of medical aid’.

Regardless of its appalling human rights record, the Saudi dictatorship has had no shortage of international supporters and admirers.

In the last few years it has enjoyed very flattering, high-profile, credibility-boosting visits from leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Barack Obama, and, from Britain, both Prime Minister David Cameron and a sword-dancing Prince Charles.

These high-profile visits have only served to strengthen the regime’s archaic and authoritarian rule, allowing it to increase its global influence while it continues its repression unabated. In fact, the day after Prince Charles’ recent visit, 7 Saudi citizens were jailed for 20 years for ‘offences’ that included protesting.

This political support is underpinned by a strong military and arms-sales relationship between Britain and Saudi Arabia.

The Conservative-led coalition government of 2010-15 continued Britain’s longstanding policy by licensing £3.8-billion ($ 5.9-billion) worth of arms to the regime. This included licences for combat aircraft, components for bombs, weapon sights and teargas. There is no reason to believe that anything will change under the new Conservative government.

There are human costs for people outside Saudi Arabia too. British weapons were used by Saudi forces against democracy protesters in Bahrain and are being used in the carnage that is being inflicted against Yemen. The bombing of Yemen has been fully supported by Britain, with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond pledging to ‘support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat’.

We have not only authorized these sales, but have worked hand in glove with companies such as BAE Systems to promote them.

Government ministers have enjoyed a politically intimate and highly compromising relationship with Saudi rulers, and even members of the Royal Family have been co-opted into promoting arms sales. This was evident last year when Prince Charles used a visit to Saudi Arabia to promote Eurofighter sales for BAE Systems.

There are greater internal threats to the Saudi regime than in the past. Wikileaks has just published 60,000 documents which reveal that although the Saudi government is becoming increasingly paranoid about Russia and Iran, it is still practising ‘cheque-book diplomacy’ to reduce what it sees as external threats.

However, the recent bombings of two Shi’a mosques indicate that Islamic State (IS) has gained a foothold in the Kingdom. The attack, which killed 21 people, followed months of increasing tensions. It is unknown how the regime will respond, but if past form is anything to go by, then it is likely to intensify the repression.

What would it take for the British government to change its policy of selling arms to Saudi Arabia? It doesn’t sell weapons to Iran, Syria, Russia or North Korea, not least because of those countries’ appalling human rights records. Why does the same rule not apply to Saudi Arabia?

If whiplashing and locking up bloggers, or the bombardment and destruction of Yemen, isn’t considered a good enough reason to end arms sales, then what is?

Unfortunately, the Saudi regime isn’t even being cautioned; on the contrary, it is being encouraged. The message this sends is simple: the human rights of Saudi people are less important than the profits BAE Systems makes each year.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT @CAATuk.

Find out more about CAAT and Stop the Arms Fair’s campaign against DSEI, the arms fair held in London later this year, at which some of the world’s most authoritarian dictatorships will do deals with some of the world’s biggest arms companies.

An (illegal) trade in arms

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An armed police officer from the Garda Regional Support Unit (RSU) in Ireland, carrying a Heckler & Koch MP7 and a SIG Sauer P226. Secretive Ireland under a Creative Commons Licence

It’s been a tough few months for German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch (H&K).

Its guns are being abandoned by the German armed forces, and a swathe of accusations have piled up: ‘cronyism’ with the German ministry of defence; trying to use German military intelligence to quash negative media coverage; and most importantly, illegally selling thousands of guns to Mexico, according to Germany’s Customs Investigation Bureau (ZKA).

The ZKA report suggests that a lawsuit will be brought against 5 former executives and employees of the company, and that H&K could be fined $3.3 million (the value of the sales).

In 2007, the German government banned the export of arms to the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Chiapas and Guerrero, due to concerns that they could be used in cases of human rights violations.

However, according to reports published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, H&K delivered over 9,000 G36 assault rifles to Mexico between 2003 and 2011 alone, with over half of them going to the regions covered by the ban.

Sales like these don’t just have legal consequences; they also have grave human ones. The authorities in Guerrero are routinely linked to corruption and human rights abuses. In 2011, photographs and witness testimonies emerged, which indicated the police had turned H&K rifles on a student protest, killing 2 innocent people in the process.

The abuses have got even worse since then. 2014 saw the kidnapping and murder of 43 students in an event that prosecutors believe was carried out by gangsters with the full knowledge and complicity of the police.

Officers have been accused of rounding up the students and handing them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which slaughtered them and incinerated their bodies.

The massacre led to a major investigation, with state and federal officials being called in from across the country. Upon searching through the police arsenal, the investigators found a cache of H&K G36 rifles. It is still unclear if the Iguala police used the G36s during the initial attack on the students. It is however known that they used 5.56-millimetre rounds, which would fit the G36.

An investigation into the wider issue of arms sales to Mexico has been going on for 5 years. However, despite conducting several interviews and raiding the company’s headquarters and the homes of executives, the German authorities are yet to formally report back or to charge anyone.

There is little doubt that the guns were sold.

In 2013, an H&K internal investigation into the same issue found 2 employees had sold weapons to the banned regions. Both employees were quickly removed from the company.

However, last January, the employees won an unfair dismissal case in a labour court after their sacking was deemed unlawful.

A final verdict on the arms sales is expected soon, but, regardless of what comes out, it is clear that the problem goes deeper than a few rogue employees.

Heckler & Koch has a long and shameful history of evading arms embargoes to supply conflict zones and repressive regimes. One trick the company has used many times is to license a country that isn’t bound by embargoes to manufacture and sell H&K’s weapons.

For example, in the 1970s, German companies weren’t allowed to sell arms to Kenya, but H&K got around this by licensing the UK’s Royal Ordnance Factories to make and sell 200,000 battle rifles to Kenya.

The company has been using this trick ever since, and in 2008 it licensed Saudi Arabia – one of the world’s most repressive regimes – to manufacture G36 rifles, which they then proceeded to sell on the international market.

H&K guns have been used in ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Darfur, and its G36 rifles have turned up in Georgia and in Qadafi’s arsenals in Libya, despite exports to these conflict zones being illegal under German law.

The issue, however, goes further than Heckler & Koch.

Corruption and the arming of human rights abusers are endemic in the global arms trade. Europe’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has been widely accused of bribery and corruption, and has sold weapons to human rights-abusing regimes all over the world, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Similarly, teargas canisters produced by British arms company Chemring have been used against innocent people in Egypt and Hong Kong.

The other crucial part of the equation is the role of governments.

Companies like H&K sell weapons all over the world, but they wouldn’t be able to do so without the support and complicity of governments that promote their products and license their exports.

Despite recent talk from the German government about reducing it, the German arms trade is currently the third biggest in the world.

What is required is not the removal of a handful of executives, it is a radical change in policy and an end to a trade that exacerbates violence and profits from conflict. There can never be an ethical arms trade, because it is a contradiction in terms.

The products made by companies like Heckler & Koch do not make the world more secure; on the contrary, they fuel conflict and facilitate human rights abuses such as those seen in Mexico.

Germany, Britain, and the other countries that promote and aid companies such as H&K could stop the sale of arms to conflict zones and tyrants right now; all it would take is political will.

Andrew Smith and Kirk Jackson are spokespeople for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

We need to end the pro-military consensus

Royal Navy SSBN HMS Victorious

A nuclear submarine approaches Faslane in Scotland. UK Ministry of Defence under a Creative Commons Licence

The last couple of weeks have seen Britain’s military strategy brought to the forefront of the election, with Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon accusing Labour leader Ed Miliband of ‘bartering away’ our costly and deadly nuclear submarines and ‘gambling’ with our national security. ‘Ed Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader.’ we were told. ‘Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister.’

Unfortunately, despite the personalized tone of the comments, the political differences between the two main parties are actually far less pronounced than his outburst would suggest. Both parties remain completely committed to renewing Britain’s nuclear weapons. Miliband emphasized this point in his response: ‘Our position is continuous at-sea deterrence, like the Conservative Party, renewing Trident, like the Conservative Party, multi-lateral disarmament, like the Conservative Party... It’s absolutely fine to have differences, but making up differences when differences don’t exist on national security, is frankly a ridiculous and pathetic way to conduct a campaign.’

The issue goes far wider than Trident, with both parties agreeing on most of the fundamentals of foreign policy and national security.

The last few months have seen former Defence Secretaries from both sides joining NATO heads in calling on Britain to ‘show leadership’ by increasing its current $56-billion military budget. Senior military chiefs have threatened to quit if there are any cuts and last month the House of Commons Defence Committee urged the government to ‘rebuild its military capacity’.

The response of the political leaders has been to skewer their opponents and talk up their own commitment to the military, with Prime Minister David Cameron calling for spending to increase in the next parliament and the Labour leadership pledging to outspend the Conservatives.

This is all part a broader UK foreign policy that has been characterized by militarism, shows of strength and disastrous foreign interventions, like the deadly wars in Libya and Iraq. The emphasis on war and interventionism has been complemented by a consistent and utterly hypocritical support for tyrants and dictatorships, like those in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, which have all been designated as ‘priority markets’ for British arms sales.

This pro-military consensus has only been encouraged by a close-knit and compromising relationship between arms companies and politicians from across the spectrum.

This was on full display when the ADS, a trade body for arms companies, held its annual dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Mayfair two months ago. The dinner was attended by over 40 MPs, from across the three main political parties, including the Minister for Business, Vince Cable, and Labour’s Shadow Defence Minister, Vernon Coaker.

The high-level political support has been complemented by a strong structural support. This has led to the development of a ‘revolving door’ between arms companies and the corridors of power. Between 1996-2012 alone, senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials were given approval for over 3,500 jobs in arms companies.

One of the most notable examples is former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who is now the head of government affairs at AgustaWestland, which won a $2.6-billion contract while he was in office.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are positive alternatives, which can change the way Britain acts and is perceived abroad. Unfortunately, none of those alternatives are coming out in party political debates, and they cannot come from selling weapons to despots and maintaining one of the highest military budgets in the world.

At the heart of the debate on militarism and war is the much wider question about what kind of country we want Britain to be. There is a fundamental choice to be made about the values we want to project and practice abroad and the kind of society we want to build at home.

Regardless of who forms the next government, it is not more manufactured and personalized arguments about Trident that are needed, but a fundamental review of our approach to national security.

Such a review would provide the opportunity to reallocate resources according to actual threats and potential benefits, including addressing major causes of insecurity such as inequality and climate change. But that will only come by ending the pro-military consensus that underpins our parliament and calling an end to business as usual.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

Shifting priorities: from arms to renewables

Stevenston and wind turbines

Oliver Clarke under a Creative Commons Licence

What would happen if the government put peace and social justice ahead of militarism and war? What would happen if the level of resources currently being put into promoting military might were used to make the world a better place?  

This year alone, Britain will spend $57 billion on arms and the military. What if a similar figure was invested in promoting social and environmental justice and creating jobs in the renewable sector?

It seems like such an obvious solution, especially at a time when there is a severe skills shortage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. However, at present the government spends 25 times more on Research & Development (R&D) for the military ($2.24 billion) as it does on R&D for renewable energy ($90 million).

This is only one example of how the government provides arms companies and the military with a completely disproportionate level of political and financial support.

The close connections between the arms trade, politicians and civil servants were revealed earlier this month at the ADS (Aviation, Defence and Space Industries) dinner, which saw over 40 MPs joining high-level civil servants and hundreds of arms dealers for a luxurious £250($385)-a-head dinner at the Hilton hotel in Mayfair.

Every year, taxpayers subsidize arms companies to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds to export their wares into war zones and to arm oppressive regimes around the world. These weapons don’t just provide military support, they provide political support too, and give a sign of British support for atrocities taking place across the world.

Meanwhile, at home, billions of pounds are being spent on bloated procurement projects and military technology we do not need, like trident and aircraft carriers. BAE Systems, for example, has long-term contracts that guarantee a minimum income of $353 million per year from the public purse. All the while, vital public services that we all rely on are being cut.

The government justifies its support for the arms trade by arguing it needs to protect high-skilled manufacturing jobs. However, despite all of these resources, and despite the deep well of government support, the number of jobs in the arms trade is on a long-term decline that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. The prospects for the industry have been described by a former President of its own trade body as ‘flat-lining at best’.

We believe there is an alternative.

Our research shows that a move towards offshore wind and marine energy could benefit us all by providing greater security from environmental threats and by producing more jobs than the entire arms industry. Our estimate is that the right levels of investment and government support could help to create over 300,000 jobs in offshore wind and marine energy alone. This estimate is based on building the domestic supply chain for renewable energy, including placing obligations on companies to locate and develop skills in local communities.

The transition could be made without any large-scale job losses. Like the arms trade, the renewable-energy sector is highly skilled, and actually has a very similar breakdown across broad categories of skill levels, employing many of the same branches of engineering. There would also be appropriate work available in most areas where arms workers are located, with tens of thousands of supply-chain jobs that could be located anywhere in the country.

This point is acknowledged by the arms companies themselves. For example, Sandy Wilson, the President of General Dynamics UK, has told the Parliamentary Defence Committee that alternative energy is just one of the industries that stood to ‘mop up’ arms-trade jobs if there was a cut in military spending.

By changing directions, Britain can take a leading position in technologies that will be in high demand, will have major export potential and will also help other countries cut their carbon emissions. Shifting priorities would secure green jobs for the future and improve human security rather than threaten it. But this potential won’t be realized without action.

It will take real action from the government, and at least the same level of investment and support that is currently enjoyed by arms trade. It will also need engineers with the kind of skills that are currently being applied to making weapons and other instruments of death.

Even more than that, it will require all of us to take a stand. As George Monbiot recently wrote, ‘society moves from the margin, not the centre’. We all have a role to play in convincing the government to shift its priorities and create more and better jobs that can help to build a safer and greener tomorrow.

Andrew Smith and Matthew Burnett-Stuart are spokespeople for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

The March issue of New Internationalist, The Great Green Energy Grab – corporate renewables vs people’s power, is out now.

Arms trade treaty is just a fig leaf

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The British government has been lobbying Bahrain to buy Eurofighter jets. Ronnie MacDonald under a Creative Commons Licence

After almost 20 years, the Arms Trade Treaty has finally come into force, but what will it change? Will it stop arms-dealing nations from selling weapons to human rights abusing regimes? Will it stop governments like Britain’s from selling vast quantities of arms to dictatorships like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia? Will it stop countries like Russia from arming the Assad regime in Syria?

No. The treaty will do none of these things, for the simple reason that it has specifically been designed not to.

Despite some of the rhetoric from those promoting it, the treaty is only concerned with regulating arms sales, not reducing them. This is made clear in its introduction, which acknowledges ‘the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interest... in the international trade in conventional arms’. The arms companies, which were represented on the British delegation negotiating the treaty, could not have asked for more.

Governments in the main arms exporting countries have joined major arms companies like BAE Systems in stressing that the treaty will not create any new obligations on them or change the way they do business. Everything will stay the same, but now they will have another legalistic fig leaf of international legitimacy to hide their arms exports behind. Far from challenging the status quo, it is far more likely that the treaty will serve to entrench it.

It is not more rules that are needed to end the arms trade; it is a real and meaningful shift in government policies and priorities.

On paper, many governments that have signed up to the treaty, including Britain, already have strong and robust arms control systems, but it is not words that count, it is action. And the actions tell a different story. Far from trying to discourage arms sales, Britain has consistently pulled out all stops to try and maximize them. Every year the government publishes its Human Rights and Democracy Report; the most recent report listed 28 ‘countries of concern’ and yet in the last 12 months it has licensed weapons to at least 18 of them.

The government’s role doesn’t just extend to authorizing and overseeing sales; it also actively promotes them, putting a lot of time, effort and political capital into doing so. Every year it compiles a list of ‘priority markets’ for arms sales and, as usual, this year’s list includes a number of dictatorship and human rights abusers, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bahrain – all of which have been courted for arms sales. Only last month Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was in Bahrain, openly lobbying the regime to buy Eurofighter jets.

In September this year the Docklands in East London will play host to DSEI 2015, a biennial government-sponsored arms fair that is among the biggest in the world. DSEI, which will be unimpeded by the Arms Trade Treaty, will bring hundreds of major arms companies and arms dealers together with some of the worst dictators and warmongering regimes. This deadly carnival of the grotesque could not take place without the practical and political support of government ministers and their departments.

The promotions don’t stop at hosting arms fairs and trade missions. Britain even has a government department dedicated to the promotion of arms sales: the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organization (UKTI DSO). Despite its obscure name and low profile, UKTI DSO is right at the heart of the government’s support for the arms trade, employing 128 civil servants for the sole purpose of boosting international arms sales.

The government’s predictable response is to say that arms sales are vital for jobs and security, but this is absolutely no justification for their support. Arms sales, which fuel insecurity and abuse around the world, only account for 1.4 per cent of British exports and just 0.2 per cent of the jobs. On top of that, the industry receives an annual public subsidy, which one study estimates to be around $1 billion.

This money would be far better spent on investing in growing industries, like green energy, and tackling the real threats to our security, such as energy security and climate change. Such a monumental shift in priorities would have the added benefit of creating thousands of new jobs and boosting the economy.

However, as long as the powers, priorities and mechanisms of government are focused on pushing arms exports then there will be no meaningful change. What is needed to challenge the status quo is not another round of vague and ineffective treaties that can be ignored, re-interpreted and hidden behind at will.

What is required is a radical change in policy and a change from the mindset that puts helping companies secure lucrative (for them, not the taxpayer) deals before all else. The simple fact is that Britain, and other countries, could stop arming tyrants right now, but that doesn’t need an Arms Trade Treaty. It needs the political will.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

Britain is all talk and no action on human rights

Barbed wire

Chandan Chaurasia under a Creative Commons Licence

The news that Prince Andrew is visiting Saudi Arabia to ‘reinforce ties’ between the two countries is only the most recent expression of the extremely close relationship between the British establishment and the Saudi autocrats. It may have been a particularly high-profile example, but it is one of many recent reminders that Britain may talk tough on human rights and democracy, but is all too happy to work closely with one of the most despotic regimes in the world.

It would be hard to overstate the level of oppression taking place in Saudi Arabia. To question the Monarch is to risk imprisonment; even your life. The risk has become even greater in recent years. This March Saudi rulers passed a new ‘terrorism’ law that treats all atheists and political dissidents as enemies of the state. Torture is widespread and LGBT citizens are still punished by notoriously restrictive and homophobic laws. Public executions have become an all too regular occurrence, with 59 people having been beheaded since January for offences ranging from drug-smuggling to ‘sorcery’.

Government repression is widespread and systematic, penetrating almost every aspect of life in the Kingdom. The regime is one of few in the region that made no concessions in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ and even the small glimmers of progress, such as new measures that will allow some women to drive, only emphasize what a uniquely low base the country is starting from. This is why the most recent Economist Democracy Index listed it as the 5th most authoritarian government in the world.

Regardless of its appalling human rights record, the Saudi royal family has had no shortage of international supporters. In the last few years it has been visited by leaders like Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and a sword-dancing Prince Charles. The visits have served to empower them and given them a layer of legitimacy on the world stage. The day after Prince Charles’ recent visit, seven Saudi citizens were jailed for 20 years for ‘offences’ that included protesting. Despite widespread concerns about its role in funding terrorism, the Saudis have been made a central part of the international coalition that has been bombing Iraq.

This political relationship is underpinned by a strong commercial one. The last few weeks have also seen the revelation that Tony Blair has been involved in brokering deals with an oil company founded by a member of the Saudi royal family.

There are now over 200 joint ventures between British and Saudi companies worth $17.5 billion. These have been boosted by a series of extensive arms sales and oil deals. Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of British-made weapons, and has spent tens of billions of pounds since the 1960s. These sales have enjoyed the explicit support of successive British governments and benefited from a high level of institutional support, with around 270 Ministry of Defence civil servants and military personnel working in Britain to support the contracts.

The scale of the major arms deals have led to close three-way co-operation between the British government, the Saudi regime and BAE Systems. This was evident in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher presided over the corruption-riddled Al Yamamah Tornado deal and when Tony Blair oversaw the signing of a provisional multi-billion pound agreement for BAE Eurofighter jets in 2005.

In 2006 Blair’s Eurofighter deal came under threat due to an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation into allegations that BAE had paid bribes to secure arms sales to the Saudis. However, just as it began to look like the Saudis were going to pull out and move the order to France, Blair intervened and had the investigation dropped.

The nature of the relationship was the subject of an inquiry by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) in 2013. But the report was a whitewash and only served to give political cover to the government to continue its policy of arms sales and turning a blind eye to ongoing human right abuses. Unfortunately, arms companies and Saudi interests were right at the heart of the committee. Sir William Patey, a former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was appointed as a Specialist Adviser to the Committee.

This problem was compounded when informal meetings were arranged with representatives from BAE Systems, including Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and now an international business adviser to BAE, and Bob Keen, BAE’s head of government relations. In comparison there were no informal meetings with any of the critical human rights organizations.

The British government often talks about human rights and democracy but those words ring hollow when it is enjoying such a mutually sycophantic and special relationship with a Saudi dictatorship that commits atrocities on a daily basis and that even Hillary Clinton has linked to the funding of terrorism. Britain’s support doesn’t just line the pockets of arms companies; it also provides an implicit backing for the Saudi regime and sends a message to its citizens and the wider region that their aspirations for human rights and democracy are of less importance than BAE's profits.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade. You can follow CAAT at @wwwcaatorguk

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