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Britain’s Defence Industry: Decisive Dealers in Death

As Osborne plans to impose £11 billion of welfare cuts or tax rises, the arms industry in Britain in contrast is an ever increasing chief expenditure. In 2011, after the US Britain was found to be ‘the world’s biggest defence exporter’, and shamelessly remains the fourth-biggest military spender in the world. By shamelessly I mean proud, exemplified by Cameron last December as he admired the ‘outstanding performance‘ of the Typhoon fighter jet in Libya.

From an impartial British citizen’s perspective it is tempting to believe Cameron when he says:

Boosting exports is vital for economic growth, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to promote British business … so [it] can thrive in the global race. Every country in the world has a right to self-defence, and I’m determined to put Britain’s first-class defence industry at the forefront of this market, supporting 300,000 jobs across the country.

In actuality, the defence industry makes up a mere 1% of the workforce. More importantly, what does increasing your own nation’s GDP mean when it comes at such a barbaric cost elsewhere?

Within just four months in 2009, as the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger’s culminated, up to an alleged  75,000 people were killed. A recent Independent article reveals how during a similar amount of time, over a mere three month period last year, the UK sold nearly £4 million worth of weapons to Sri Lanka – regardless of numerous reported human rights abuses.

The following article is about the recently revealed execution of the 12 year old son of the military leader of the Tamil Tigers, shot dead by the Sri Lankan army. If you can’t relate to the 75,000, perhaps you can relate to a young individual in order to realise that it is time to regulate the arms trade. It is time to stop profiting from deaths.


7 thoughts on “Britain’s Defence Industry: Decisive Dealers in Death”

  1. Well this was possibly the most simplistic take on a conflict I have ever read. And I mean ever.

    1) The tigers used child soldiers, executed civilians who refused to be used as shields during their last stand and frequently attacked civilians across Sri Lanka in an extremely brutal style of conflict.

    2) 2009 marked the final end of civil war in Sri Lanka, after decades of conflict. British weapons likely made this end all the swifter.

    3) The tigers have likely been the cause of far more civilian deaths than the Sri Lankan government. Extended conflict will have only increased this number. The threat of renewed conflict still exists.

    There are plenty of ways to criticise the defense industry and its sales. A mindblowingly simplified and deliberately misleading representation of an extremely complicated conflict is absolutely not one of them.

  2. I would prefer it if you tried to answer any of the charges levied at your blog article. But as it is: Yes, weapons kill people. They also protect people from those with murderous intent who are more than capable of making weapons themselves. Even most developed states would struggle with the situation of banning all weapons including those used by police and armed forces. It would also make eating food fairly difficult.

  3. £4 million of arms in a “mere three month period” is a tiny sum. (It was actually, as per The Independent, “just over £3m [on] military items.) 1400 firearms does not represent anything but a small sale.

    Moreover, we tend to sell weapons to states whose strength is to our benefit. This is the more significant profit, ultimately, and one that should be factored in to these calculations.

    Finally, Typhoon *is* outstanding.

  4. This is NOT double standards, as your beloved friends at CAAT well know. Almost all of the items approved for export to Sri Lanka have NOT been intended for the use of the Sri Lankan Government and its Armed/Security Forces, but rather have been exported to Sri Lanka for the use of the British Private Military and Security Companies who are based out there, and are undertaking anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. This story is deliberate and mischievous disinformation by CAAT trying to stir up a fuss for its own purposes! See the following for a total and thorough debunking of this “story”:

  5. 1. UK arms export standards say that arms should not be exported where there is a clear risk of their use for internal oppression. They also dictate that arms should not contribute to prolong a conflict or cause tension. The Sri Lankan conflict has been brutal, with both the government forces and the Tigers committing war are likely war crimes. Neither side should be armed by the UK, its hard to keep up a war without arms.

    2. The government statement isn’t worth much as the UK does not have effective end use controls so we have almost no chance of knowing where the arms might be diverted to. Even if private security firms are the major recipient that is no guarantee, these companies are notoriously under regulated and there is little evidence available to show such companies, let alone british companies, operating much from Sri Lanka. Furthermore the seller and recipient of the arms is not publicly available and therefore groups such as CAAT are unable to divine the end user, however they are right to be concerned about this significant flow of materiel.

    3. £3 million worth of arms in a 3 month period may not be huge militarily in terms of cost but 1400 firearms are enough to equip a small army, many significant conflict involve smaller groups, and therefore this amount is certainly of concern.

    Concern on this case is perfectly reasonable, a country like Sri Lanka has enough weaponry knocking about already without the UK arms industry pushing more there.

  6. Firstly, 1% of the UK work force is a lot of people. What about % of GDP? The same Guardian article you cite notes that Britain has 15% of the entire global defence exports sector. That’s a heck of a lot of wealth to chuck away. In 2001 it was $4bn in exports. I’m guessing it’s even more now.

    Secondly, defence cuts in the US, UK and Europe make the exports market even more important for UK defence industry. It’s important that the country can develop and manufacture its own cutting edge kit, rather than rely every time on other countries. For example, the UK is collaborating with the US and several other countries on the F-35 aircraft project, and pursuing international partners for the T-26 frigate project, still in the design phase.

    Thirdly, Britain’s defence sector is a valuable asset in the country’s diplomatic armoury, from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office perspective, alongside other tools, like the aid budget, closeness to US, EU influence, Commonwealth relationships, trade agreements, the global economic role of the City of London, etc, etc.

    Fourthly, I sense your article is tinged by naive idealism on defence and international relations, so I will leave you with some sage and realist words from Margaret Thatcher.

    “For every idealistic peacemaker willing to renounce his self-defence in favour of a weapons-free world, there is at least one war-maker anxious to exploit the other’s good intentions.”

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