UK arms export decisions 'flawed'
13 July 2012
The government must show more caution when approving arms exports to authoritarian regimes after having to hurriedly scrap 158 export licences as a result of 2011's Arab Spring, a committee of MPs has found.
The revocations show 'flawed' judgment when the initial decisions were made, the Committees on Arms Export Controls found, blaming decision making rather than the system itself.
The committee questioned hundreds of further export licences to regimes of concern to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including whether the government supported the nine current arms licences to Syria, which include all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection, and cryptographic equipment. It also asked government to reconsider its 97 licences to Bahrain, 288 to Saudi Arabia, 124 to Egypt, 24 to Libya, 47 to Tunisia and 11 to Yemen.
The government has also approved licences for cryptographic software and equipment to Iran, as well as the export of hundreds of thousands of pounds of warship and aircraft parts to Argentina.
The government's stated policy is not to export weapons to countries where they may be used "to facilitate internal repression",but MPs wrote that it had in the past simply waited until internal repression became "patently clear", as was the case in 2011. The government was also criticised for not publicly consulting on its plans to shake up arms export controls, despite its stated policy of transparency. Instead it conducted what amounted to an "internal review" of policy, the committee said.
Foreign Office minister for Counter Proliferation Alistair Burt said it was "wrong" to suggest that UK arms controls were lax in the run up to the Arab Spring, when the 158 licences were revoked.
"When the licences in question were issued, they were properly assessed in light of the prevailing circumstances. Once the circumstances changed, the risk was reassessed and licences were revoked. This is evidence of a system that is working, not failing. There is no evidence that equipment supplied by the UK was used to facilitate internal repression during the Arab Spring."
Kaye Stearman of Campaign Against the Arms Trade said the report "pulls no punches" in criticising the decision making process.
"CAAT welcomes its willingness to go beyond the export licencing process itself to look at the rationale determining UKTI DSO priority markets and the position of Saudi Arabia. We need much more light shed on this very murky area of government activity."
Amnesty International's UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said: "At this crucial time when talks are on-going for the world's first Arms Trade Treaty, MPs have issued a stark reminder that the UK government has to also get its own house in order on arms export controls.
"In order that the UK and other countries do not repeat recent past mistakes of irresponsible arms sales to the Middle East region, the UK must not accept anything less than a Treaty that contains binding, cast iron rules that will prevent any transfer of weapons if there is a substantial risk that they would be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations, on this there must be no compromise."