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Published on September 1st, 2011 | by Luca Gastaldi
Image © [caption id="attachment_3301" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="©Svadilfari"][/caption] British arms exports to North Africa and the Middle East have increased by almost 30% during the Arab Spring, showing a different side to British involvement in the area. The Times reports that even though 160 military export licences to the Middle East were revoked between February and April, “more than 600 [...] remain in place, including dozens authorising sales to Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt, with a total value of £1.45 billion”. Britain is the second largest arms exporter in the world, after the US. The industry is worth £35 billion a year and 300,000 jobs are connected to it; its size and weight have made it a very influential lobbyist in Whitehall. The industry is regulated by Strategic Exports Control - part of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills - that grants licences to export so-called “controlled goods”, which include military items as well as other categories of goods such as “dual use goods” or “torture goods”. The Government actively supports the industry through the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), which aims at maximising Britain’s arms exports, while its Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) guarantees to reimburse exporters in the event of default by their overseas clients. At a time of NATO involvement in Libya on the rebel side, questions are being asked about the role of the British government in arming the same Libyan army it is now fighting. The intervention, championed by David Cameron alongside French President Nicholas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama, was an example of a foreign policy that united national interest and a moral case for intervention. Its aim to defend the Libyan people against Gaddafi, a tyrant seconded by the West for far too long, was commendable and right. However, the role of Britain in supplying arms to authoritarian governments across the Middle East clearly clashes with the humanitarian values behind this intervention. Tougher controls on the arms trade need to be put in place, and Parliament has the power to do so. The same political will that prompted Britain, France and the US to intervene in Libya should have halted the supply of weapons to the region during the Arab Spring.

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British arms exporters benefit from Arab Spring

©Svadilfari

British arms exports to North Africa and the Middle East have increased by almost 30% during the Arab Spring, showing a different side to British involvement in the area. The Times reports that even though 160 military export licences to the Middle East were revoked between February and April, “more than 600 [...] remain in place, including dozens authorising sales to Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt, with a total value of £1.45 billion”.

Britain is the second largest arms exporter in the world, after the US. The industry is worth £35 billion a year and 300,000 jobs are connected to it; its size and weight have made it a very influential lobbyist in Whitehall. The industry is regulated by Strategic Exports Control – part of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills – that grants licences to export so-called “controlled goods”, which include military items as well as other categories of goods such as “dual use goods” or “torture goods”. The Government actively supports the industry through the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), which aims at maximising Britain’s arms exports, while its Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) guarantees to reimburse exporters in the event of default by their overseas clients.

At a time of NATO involvement in Libya on the rebel side, questions are being asked about the role of the British government in arming the same Libyan army it is now fighting. The intervention, championed by David Cameron alongside French President Nicholas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama, was an example of a foreign policy that united national interest and a moral case for intervention. Its aim to defend the Libyan people against Gaddafi, a tyrant seconded by the West for far too long, was commendable and right. However, the role of Britain in supplying arms to authoritarian governments across the Middle East clearly clashes with the humanitarian values behind this intervention. Tougher controls on the arms trade need to be put in place, and Parliament has the power to do so. The same political will that prompted Britain, France and the US to intervene in Libya should have halted the supply of weapons to the region during the Arab Spring.

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