Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Saferworld


  1.  The events of 11 September will have widespread repercussions for US-UK relations. One important area that may be affected is arms export control policy. The purpose of this briefing is to highlight current attempts by the Bush Administration to repeal some arms export control measures, identify the potential dangers of proliferation at this time, and urge the UK to maintain and rigorously implement its control and push for co-ordinated international restraint.

The US Position

  2.  Subsequent to the attacks in New York and Washington the Bush administration has sought to establish a more permissive regime for arms exports from the US. The administration was reported in the Washington Post[22] as having proposed in closed-door briefings to members of the House and Senate to end all congressional restrictions or US military sales to any country supporting the US fight on terrorism for the next five years.

  3.  A State Department legal spokesman was quoted as saying that the blanket waiver would apply to all current prohibitions, including those related to human rights, terrorism and non-payment of debt. "It gives the president authority to be able to provide assistance even though it might ordinarily be restricted [by] one or more types" of prohibitions, the spokesman said.

  4.  This apparently met stiff Congressional resistance, and President Bush later denied that any such waiver was sought[23]. However, embargoes on sales of military equipment to Pakistan and India have been lifted and there are reports that there are plans to also lift controls on Indonesia. Inside The Pentagon reported a State Department spokesperson saying on 4 October that "At this time we're looking specifically at the needs in regards to Pakistan and India; however, it is a work in progress and other actions may need to be taken," she said. "We are not asking for a broad authority at this time; however, if the situation warrants we could seek additional authorities. We will, of course, continue to monitor our needs as the situation develops."

  5.  It is vital that combating terrorism is a key focus of foreign policy at this time. However, Saferworld is concerned that this must be viewed no in isolation but alongside other priorities such as protection of human rights, maintenance of regional stability and controls on weapons proliferation. There is a danger that these concerns will be sidelined in the current climate, with an impact on export control policy.

  6.  The short-term approach of providing military equipment or assistance to strategically important states ignores the long-term implications of arming countries in a region susceptible to change. Whilst the supply of military equipment may be a useful tool for building coalitions, there are a number of examples from the recent past where arming states with undemocratic or unstable regimes to fight for a common cause has had serious repercussions.

    —  During the 1970s and 1980s the US offered military equipment and assistance to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlevi in Iran, only for a popular uprising to bring an Islamic fundamentalist government to power with a fleet of F-16 fighter jets and other weaponry available to them, courtesy of previous US support.

    —  Britain and its allies played a part in substantially increasing Iraq's military capability through the 1980s in their conflict with Iran, only for those same exports to be turned against allied forces during the Gulf War.

    —  When the US intervened in Somalia in 1992, they faced American-made M-16 rifles, machine guns, howitzers, armored personnel carriers, and anti-tank missiles, part of the US154 million worth of weapons earlier supplied to Somalia by the US Government[24].

    —  In Afghanistan, the US supplied Afghan guerrillas with a substantial number of Stinger anti-aircraft weapons in 1986. Following the Soviet retreat in 1989, the US tried to buy back the Stingers, but with limited success. The Taliban are now in possession of these US manufactured weapons, ready to use them against the country that initially supplied them. Similarly, Barrett M82A1 sniper rifles, used by US marines in the Gulf War to attack Iraqi armoured vehicles, are in the hands of the A1 Qaeda network.

Export policy in the UK

  7.  UK export control policy is based on compliance with the eight criteria of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and works is ongoing through the EU Council to improve the implementation of the EU Code. The UK Export Control Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will establish in law a number of Purposes of export controls which are broadly consistent with the EU Code criteria (with the exception of the exclusion of sustainable development from the Bill). Both instruments reflect an increasing international understanding that arms transfers should be governed by the consistent application of certain principles, for example that arms exports should not be permitted where there is a risk that they may be used to abuse human rights, to undermine international stability or to facilitate acts of terrorism.

  8.  Saferworld has raised concerns in the past about the need for the UK Government to rigorously implement its export controls. The export criteria state that export licence will not be issued "if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim". Yet the Government's Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls for 2000 highlights that the UK is exporting equipment with a potentially offensive use to India and Pakistan (in dispute over Kashmir). These cases are of particular concern given the current environment (see below). The following licences were granted last year:

  India—699 Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELS), including components and technology for combat aircraft and combat helicopters, components and technology for surface-to-air missiles;

  Pakistan—88 SIELs, including components for combat helicopter, 171 shotguns, military communications equipment; and

  9.  Now more than ever, it is vital that the UK apply a restrictive interpretation of the EU Code criteria, especially for arms transfer to those states most closely affected by the situation in Afghanistan. Commentators have raised potential concerns over internal uprisings in certain countries (eg Pakistan), renewed regional conflict (eg between India and Pakistan in Kashmir), increased regional instability (in the Middle East) and prospects that other states in the region may use the current climate as a pretext for clamping down on other forms of internal dissent. Now is a time for increased restraint in arms exports and it is important that the increasing moves towards relaxing export controls in the US do not have a knock-on effect on UK and EU policy.

  10.  There have been signs in recent weeks that the current crisis is impacting on British foreign policy. British opposition to Russian involvement in Chechnya has softened with Prime Minister Blair quoted as saying: "It is very obvious to us that those militants who are trying to oppose [Russian forces] in Chechnya are connected with international terrorism"[25]. And The Guardian has reported that "Mr Blair has even promised to renew defence links with Pakistan."[26]. At International Question Time fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Ben Bradshaw, the Minister responsible for arms exports in the Foreign Office, questioned whether it was right to refuse to export weapons to Algeria, Indonesia and Sri Lanka as they were democratically-elected governments facing internal terrorist threats. It is important that the new climate does not lead to countries' attitudes to terrorism overriding other concerns about the impact exports may have on exacerbating internal conflict or fuelling internal repression.

    —  Saferworld recommends that the UK Government institute a policy of presumption of denial for arms exports to all countries in Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. This would mean that export licence applications would be refused unless there was demonstrable proof that the arms were necessary for self-defence.

  11.  As one of the main arms-supplying states of the EU, the UK should also take a lead in encouraging other EU states to implement responsible arms export policies at this time. Furthermore, as a key ally of the US and as its main supporter in this conflict, the UK should seek to act as a restraining influence upon the US. There is also a need to co-ordinate restraint with other partners in the new "coalition against terrorism". The Pakistan News Service reported on 9 October that Russia is planning a shipment of $45 million of arms to the Northern Alliance, including tanks, combat vehicles, small arms and ammunition. Given the past experiences listed above of arming unstable actors in pursuit of short-term foreign policy goals, the UK should work with all its partners in ensuring that these earlier mistakes are not repeated.

  12.  The current situation also highlights the value of parliamentary scrutiny of arms export licences in advance of a final decision by Government. Consideration by experienced parliamentarians of licence applications will be important to ensure that all the export control criteria are implemented rigorously and given equal weight.

    —  Saferworld therefore recommends that the Government reconsider the proposals by the Quadripartite Select Committee to institute a system of prior parliamentary scrutiny of export licence applications.[27]


October 2001

22   "Bush Seeks Wider Foreign-Aid Power-Waiver Could Entitle Past Terror Sponsors to Military Assistance." The Washington Post, 24 September 2001. Back

23   "Bush retreats over controls on arms sales," Edward Alden, Financial Times, 26 September 2001 Back

24   "If the US hates terrorists, why do we keep arming them?", Steve Dasbach, 5 October 2001, available at Back

25   "EU caves in to Putin over Chechnya," David Cronin, European Voice, 4-10 October 2001. Back

26   "Musharraf dismisses two Islamist Generals," Luke Harding, The Guardian, 9 October 2001, p.4. Back

27   "Strategic Export Controls: Annual report for 1999 and parliamentary prior scrutiny." Third Report of the Quadripartite Select Committee, HC212, 14 March 2001. Back

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