Who does UK National Strategy - Public Administration Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Campaign Against Arms Trade

  1.  The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end the international arms trade. Around 80% of CAAT's funding comes from individual supporters.

  2.  Many of the points CAAT is making in this submission are also being made to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the Defence Committee's inquiry into it. Your Committee's inquiry, looking at the issue from a different angle, is most welcome. There is a real need for oversight and coordination, to make sure that the Government's security strategies are coherent and that actions of one part of government do not undermine another. This applies to many aspects of domestic policy, including energy, business and education, as well as those with a focus beyond the UK.


  3.  CAAT welcomes the fact that the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is being coordinated by the National Security Council (NSC) and not by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Hopefully, the establishment of the NSC will widen the debate about security and how to achieve it.

  4.  That the NSC is in charge of the SDSR has brought its own challenges as the NSC has little web presence and it has been difficult to discover even practical details such as where to send submissions and by what date. This contrasts sharply with CAAT's experience with other Government and parliamentary consultations, where such details are readily available on a website and are often sent to potentially interested parties.

  5.  It is disappointing that the NSC did not pro-actively seek out submissions from, and discuss them with, organisations advocating radical changes in the approach, including those with visions of a secure future achieved without using a military approach. Opening the debate by welcoming and encouraging diverse views would be likely to have brought fresh insight as to how security issues might be tackled.

  6.  Arms exports should be central to the SDSR as they jeopardise the UK's and other countries' security. While security arguments are deployed to justify them, military equipment is sold by commercial companies for commercial reasons. The UK's security strategy should recognise this.


  7.  Today, two decades after the end of the Cold War, there is a considerable measure of agreement that a conventional military threat to the UK itself from another nation state or a coalition of them is extremely unlikely. In 2008, in its "National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom" (NSS), the Government described the challenges to this, the "drivers of insecurity", as: Challenges to the rules-based international system; Climate change; Competition for energy; Poverty, inequality and poor governance; and Global trends (economy, technology and demography).

  8.  Despite this NSS and and its 2009 update discussing a broader interpretation of security, to date, the debate on the SDSR has focussed very firmly on military spending. This mirrors the current allocation of resources and needs to change markedly if the "drivers of insecurity" are to be properly addressed. A rather small, but welcome, discussion, particularly by military figures, has questioned the necessity for particular items of equipment, such as new aircraft, ships and Trident replacement, but even here the alternative is seen in terms of equipment for the wars being fought, rather than more radical non-military alternatives.

  9.  The arms companies, meanwhile, have not been reluctant to exploit new security concerns. The European Union's Security Research Programme is fostering the growth of a "homeland security" industry in Europe and many of the familiar arms companies are setting its research agenda, proposing technical "solutions" to problems, sometimes with very questionable implications for, for instance, civil liberties.

  10.  The wider security challenges could be seen as a great opportunity. Tackling them could not only lead to a more secure peace, but also a more sustainable economy.

Pressure to Maintain the Status Quo

  11.  The long time-spans of military equipment projects; a reluctance to discount any threat, however unlikely it is to materialise, as to do so might appear politically weak; and the remnants of the equation of military power with importance in the world have combined to leave the UK committed to heavy expenditure on large items of military equipment.

  12.  Pressure to maintain the status quo is also reinforced by the very close relationship between the arms companies and the Government. This gives the former immense influence over government decision-making. The relationship is sustained through the use of lobbying companies, sponsorship and donations, and public-private partnerships. More importantly, the Government's arms export promotion unit, UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO); the "revolving door" whereby Ministry of Defence (MoD) ministers and officials move to work with arms companies; and joint government-industry bodies all contribute to an unhealthy closeness.

  13.  This can be illustrated by looking at the career for Sir Kevin Tebbit. He was the MoD's Permanent Secretary from 1998 until November 2005. Retiring, he joined the Board of Finmeccanica UK, owner of helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland, just months later in June 2006. He is now the company's Chair and is also Chair of the Defence Advisory Group of UKTI DSO, as well as sitting on the National Defence Industries Council, a forum for consultation between senior government ministers and officials and industry.

  14.  However, it is not the career of one specific individual that proves a barrier to new thinking. Rather it is the cumulative effect of the many movements between the public service and industry which predisposes decision-making towards solutions that involve spending on military equipment, rather than on non-military alternatives.

Contradictory Policies

  15.  UK governments speak of strict arms export controls, but the policy and practice has been to promote arms sales with little or no regard for the damage they might cause or the wider implications of supplying them. Many countries where major conflicts are taking place are recipients of UK arms. Governments which abuse human rights and authoritarian regimes rank among the UK's most important markets. Development concerns appear irrelevant as long as a country is willing to pay for weaponry. Arms sales are undermining other government policies.

  16.  Indeed, arms sales have priority even when relevant ministers oppose them. In 2001 BAE sold a £28 million Watchman air traffic control system to Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries went ahead because it was backed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair. International Development Secretary Clare Short opposed it.

  17.  In 2008 poverty was confirmed as a "driver of insecurity". However, arms sales to India, including the £700 million Hawk deal signed during Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to that country in July 2010, will not only contribute to the regional arms race in South Asia, risk global security and be likely to undermine government-community relationships with UK citizens of Pakistani origin. Importantly, they also use resources desperately needed to tackle poverty in a country where the United Nations Development Programme defines over half the population as poor.

  18.  Arms exports carry a message of acceptance and support for the purchasing government and they can ameliorate the impact of any criticism of that might otherwise be occasioned. They can also impede efforts to tackle problems such as corruption.

  19.  The most obvious example of this is Saudi Arabia. Although on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's list of countries of human rights concern, criticism of the oppression of women, homosexuals or overseas workers is tempered by the desire to sell weapons to the oil-rich Saudi royal family. In 2006 the UK Government stopped the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE Systems' weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly for reasons of national security, but in reality to secure a deal to export Eurofighter Typhoons.

  20.  Such two-faced dealings with Saudi Arabia have not gone unnoticed. A Fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden in 1996, entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places", cites corruption in Saudi Arabia and arms purchases by the Saudi Government as major justifications for his call for a Jihad not only against the United States, but also against the Saudi royal family as well.

  21.  The addiction to arms sales also renders the export control procedures almost meaningless and with the promotion of arms exports such a priority, the Government's commitment to working for an international arms trade treaty is mere window dressing.

  22.  Arms manufacture itself is being exported with UK arms deals, including those with India and Saudi Arabia, as the contracts help those countries establish an indigenous industry there. This is part of a growing trend, a dangerous one from a proliferation perspective as more and more countries are able to produce high-tech weaponry.

  23.  The UK is also open to the charge of hypocrisy by continuing to possess nuclear weapons while calling on other states, such as Iran, not to develop them. To renew Trident would compound this and lessen the chances of other states forgoing such weaponry. Such potential proliferation threatens UK and global security.

  24.  There is much rhetoric from UK governments about the need to tackle climate change, but they have chosen to allocate far more taxpayers' money to support arms exports and production. In 2008 UK government-funded research and development (R&D) for renewables was around £66 million, compared to over £2,500 million for arms.

  25.  There are about 160 staff in UKTI DSO, dedicated to promoting military exports, more than those UKTI employees providing specific support to all other sectors of industry put together, despite arms being only 1.5% of total UK exports and, even then, 40% of their components are imported.

Justifications Don't Hold Up

  26.  Despite the dangers posed by arms exports, the close relationship between the Government and the arms companies mean they continue and that governments search for justifications. These do not appear to stand up.

  27.  National security is the Government's main official argument for supporting arms sales. The premise is that military exports can guarantee the supply of arms for the UK armed forces by keeping production lines open in the UK. However, the arms companies that are supposed to provide the guarantee of supply are international businesses, with production taking place across the globe. All significant MoD purchases include many overseas components and sub-systems. It is entirely unrealistic to expect these companies and their international shareholders to prioritise any one country's armed forces over those of other markets.

  28.  The Government also speaks of the assistance given by military exports to reducing industry's fixed overhead costs and thus lowering the cost of equipment bought by the MoD. This, however, ignores the subsidy and support given to arms exports. The total subsidy is difficult to calculate, but even the MoD, in its 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy, admitted that: "... the balance of argument about defence exports should depend mainly on non-economic considerations."

  29.  Despite this, it is still claimed that arms sales are good for the economy. No independent study seems to have been undertaken which supports this. Freedom of Information (FoI) requests by CAAT to the MoD and the then Department of Trade and Industry have revealed that neither have conducted any studies into the economic impact of Al Yamamah 1 or 2. A parliamentary answer (Hansard, 26.10.10, Col 117/8W) referred to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) a "analysis" on the number of jobs sustained in the UK by Eurofighters ordered by the MoD. Follow-up FoI requests, however, revealed that the figures given had been arrived at by asking three companies the number of jobs they and their supply chains would lose if the order was cancelled. No independent analysis had been undertaken by BIS or independent researchers.

  30.  The argument that exports assist "defence diplomacy" and with the building of "bi-lateral defence relationships" is also advanced by the Government. That this assists national security is far from self-evident; that it enforces the military mindset and assists the arms companies is undeniable.

  31.  The number of jobs supported by the arms industry is rather fewer than is generally believed—many people are surprised when given the actual figures. In 2007-08, the latest year for which Defence Analytical Services and Advice employment statistics are available, the 65,000 jobs supported by arms exports accounted for 0.2% of the UK workforce and less than 2% of manufacturing employment. A further 150,000 workers were employed producing equipment for the UK armed forces, but even the military industry total of 215,000 jobs makes up less than 0.7% of the UK workforce and around 7% of manufacturing jobs. Military exports account for just 1.5% of all exports, with 40% of the content for these being imported.


  32.  A real security strategy would focus on cross-government solutions, with no preconception that these are military. Since policies right across the spectrum can have security implications, all ministers need to be aware of this and the Cabinet needs to keep the need for coherence on this issue firmly in mind.

  33.  The Government is making commerce a top priority for UK. However, some trades or projects have an impact of other government policy. The arms trade is one such. As a first step towards withdrawing from it, UKTI DSO should be shut, without transferring its functions elsewhere, and export credit support for military projects withdrawn. Allied to this, the UK's arms export criteria must be interpreted to ensure that the UK does not licence exports to regions of conflict, repressive regimes or where they threaten the meeting of social needs. It is vital that the UK does not support and strengthen the ruling elites while ignoring the poor and vulnerable.

  34.  At the same time, the UK should move away from buying equipment designed to address scenarios that are extremely unlikely to happen. Indeed, by seeing problems as military ones requiring a military solution, the UK is more likely to become engaged in wars. The UK Government could lead a global rethink on arms procurement, starting by cancelling the purchase of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the aircraft carriers and other "white elephant" projects. Trident should not be renewed, and the disarmament obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty endorsed and acted on.

  35.  Resources should be transferred from supporting the arms companies to addressing climate change, widely acknowledged as the biggest threat to human security. A rapid expansion of renewable energy R&D and production is necessary, and this requires public investment that will, in turn, draw in skilled engineers.

  36.  Arms industry workers have skills that are needed to meet these new challenges. BAE Systems likes to portray itself as a major provider of high-tech jobs, but these jobs are dependent on R&D funding from the tax-payer. If the money changed sector the jobs would follow. Resources could be targeted at those geographical locations which might be disproportionately affected during the changes, as clearly these areas would have workers with the skills to undertake alternative engineering projects.

  37.  Tackling climate change rather than producing arms would win almost universal support and leave the UK and the world a more secure place for future generations. Rising to this challenge may also increase the number of young people attracted to scientific or engineering careers when these are seen as making a positive contribution to society rather increasing its ability to destroy.

August 2010

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