It is unrealistic to think the arms trade will stop overnight, but there are some steps that can be taken which will set us on the path.
Stop government promotion of arms exports
The Ministry of Defence co-ordinates major export campaigns, including training customers such as the Saudi Arabian military. 110 civil and military staff at the Defence & Security Organisation in the Department for International Trade promote arms and security equipment on behalf of private companies, paid for by the taxpayer.
End government insurance for arms export deals
The Department for International Trade also manages UK Export Finance (UKEF), guaranteeing companies and banks involved in an export deal don’t lose out if a buyer doesn’t pay, or pays late. UKEF aims to break even, but any shortfall is paid for by the UK taxpayer.
No arms exports to states in conflict or violating human rights
The UK government has licensed arms exports, and in doing so, granted support and legitimacy, to Pinochet’s Chile, Galtieri’s Argentina, Saddam’s Iraq and Gadaffi’s Libya. The UK continues to prioritise trade over human rights today. Its ‘core market’ list include some of the world’s most repressive regimes: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the Philippines.
Of the UK government’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review only 2 out of 20 priority risks to UK security involve a military attack on the UK. Yet resources are still allocated primarily to the armed forces and arms companies, which make the world a more dangerous place. Security needs to be seen in broader terms, not dominated by military and arms company interests, reallocating resources to major causes of insecurity such as economic inequality and climate change.
Support renewable energy and low carbon technologies
Jobs are given as a key reason to continue support for the arms trade. However as the Financial Times has pointed out, “Spending on defence is no better at creating jobs than support for other sectors.” Many employed in the arms industry are skilled engineers, whose skills could hugely benefit renewable energy and low carbon technologies sectors. Instead of continuing support for jobs which cause harm and make the world a more dangerous place, we need a Defence Diversification Agency to encourage industries which create a safer future that protects both people and planet.