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British arms industry

By James Elliott
July 23 2013





Wednesday’s Independent broke the ‘arms-for-dictators‘ splash, revealing the embarrassing story of our government approving arms sales to 25 out of 27 of the countries on its human rights blacklist.

Sri Lanka, China, Belarus and Zimbabwe received weapons, along with Russia and the West’s arch-nemesis in the Middle East, Iran. Most of the £12bn cache was sold to Israel, although it was almost entirely cryptography and software.

Whilst news, this story isn’t new. Recently I wrote about David Cameron’s propensityto jet off with arms dealers, seemingly selecting his destinations based on who had the worst human rights records. Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia are just two dictatorships he has helped arm, whilst demonstrators in the Arab Spring where repressed with British tear gas,and demolition charges sold to Bahrain and Egypt.

Labour have nothing to be smug about on arms and human rights. After Thatcher and Major had armed the genocidal General Suharto, New Labour continued being his major weapons supplier. Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, potentially the next target of that awful phrase ‘humanitarian intervention’, was invited to an arms fair, whilst David Miliband had to confess British weapons were used on Palestinians in the 2008-9 Gaza massacre.

Douglas Alexander last year wrote in The Guardian that Labour would get tough on arms exports, but given he didn’t even mention Israel, and since recently gave a hawkish speech for the Labour Friends of Israel, there is nothing to suggest he won’t repeat David Miliband’s error.

The terrible excesses of the arms trade will continue until the power to decide who does and does not get British arms is taken out of the hands of politicians, who are liable to lobbying and corporate manipulation, as the Sherard Cowper-Coles and BAE affair exemplified so well.

We need some kind of extra-parliamentary judicial body, either the UK Supreme Court or a new human rights and humanitarian law court, to scrutinise the arms industry. Where weapons are sold with the foreknowledge that they will be used for crimes, which at the moment means business as usual for the arms trade, judges, not politicians, should adjudicate.

We should treat corporate complicity in international law violations, war crimes and human rights abuses for what it really is: criminal behaviour.

Politicians who approve the licenses should be drawn in too. I doubt we would see Cameron flying around the Middle East selling weapons to dictators if he knew he would face a judge’s wrath, or even an arrest warrant, when he got back.

This policy requires a prime minister of some vision and certainly a little courage, but their legacy could be the first genuinely progressive foreign policy of this once imperial nation.

Originally published by Liberal Conspiracy 

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