UK Arms Promotion to Bahrain

Sales to Bahrain are high on the UK Government's arms promotion agenda. Its arms sales unit, the UK Defence and Security Exports or UKDSE (formerly 'UKTI DSO'), identified Bahrain as a key market in 2008/09 and the promotion efforts have continued since, regardless of the human rights abuses taking place in the country.

Last updated 24 January 2024

High-level political relationships

There is a close relationship between the UK government and the authoritarian Bahraini regime. On 7 August 2013, Bahrain’s King Hamad met with Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street, expressing his thanks for the UK’s supportive stances towards Bahrain. At the same time he indicated his eagerness to buy Eurofighter Typhoon jets.

Other recent visits include King Hamad visiting Downing Street in July 2010, the Crown Prince meeting the Foreign Secretary William Hague in December 2010 (Mark Curtis, 24.9.2012), and coming again in May 2011 (Independent, 20.5.2011), King Hamad returning the following December (Guardian, 12.12.2011) and also being invited to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee banquet in May 2012 (Daily Mail, 7.4.2012).

Another Bahraini prince, Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad al-Khalifa, was a VIP guest at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics despite allegations of direct involvement in the repression of pro-democracy supporters (Sunday Times, 15.4.2012). He also attended Counter Terror Expo in the UK in April 2013 (Bahrain News Agency, 25.4.2013).

The close relationship also involves trips in the opposite direction. Philip Hammond was part of a September 2012 delegation to Bahrain that he said was in support of Her Majesty Government’s policy for defence engagement and wider foreign policy (Hansard, 15.10.2012). In April 2013 the head of UKTI DSO, Richard Paniguian, met with the Bahraini Minister for Defence Affairs to discuss bilateral military cooperation, i.e. arms sales (Bahrain News Agency, 29.4.2013).

UK arming Bahrain as repression continues

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Arms fairs

UK government organisations have participated in Bahraini arms fairs, and in turn, Bahrain is a regular invitee to arms fairs including Farnborough International and Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI).

Emails obtained by Private Eye under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the UK government initially declined to invite Bahrain to DSEI 2011 but relented by the time the arms fair came around after deciding the regime’s human rights records had improved considerably (Private Eye, 13.7.2012).

Many of Bahrain’s international arms suppliers attend DSEI, including suppliers of small arms and crowd control equipment. BAE Systems and Otokar have supplied armoured vehicles for use in Bahrain, and Lockheed Martin has sold combat aircraft.

A young person runs across a bluured background in front of clouds of smoke

Suppliers of tear gas to Bahrain at London arms fair

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Military training

Military training can also lead to a closer military relationship and potentially benefit arms sales, and the UK has sought to provide this to the Bahraini armed forces.

During a five year period between 2006 and 2011, over 100 Bahraini military officers were trained by the Ministry of Defence at Sandhurst and other top colleges in the UK. Short-term teams were also sent to Bahrain to carry out specific training (Guardian, 18.2.2011).

Since 2007, King Hamad has been patron of the Sandhurst Foundation. He donated £3m to the academy in 2012 (Arabian Business News, 3.9.2012).

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