Subject: Britain Breached Its Own Guidelines on Arms Exports: Report [incl: Indonesia]

excerpt: British Scorpion tanks were used in demonstrations in which protestors were killed in Indonesia in 1998. The following year, the Indonesian air force flew British Hawk jets to intimidate the population of East Timor, which has since gained independence

The Guardian (UK) May 21, 2007

Government breached own guidelines on arms exports, says report

Richard Norton-Taylor

The Blair government has repeatedly breached its own guidelines on arms exports by selling weapons to countries with bad human rights records, according to a report by an independent thinktank.

Labour has tightened export controls on arms sales but it has flouted its own criteria, as the blocking of a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE Systems deals with Saudi Arabia demonstrated, says the report by Saferworld.

The document was released today to mark 10 years since ministers first promised a foreign policy with an "ethical dimension" .

In the three years up to 2006, arms exports were approved to 19 of 20 states identified as "countries of concern", including Colombia and Israel.

Measures introduced by the government give ministers the power to oversee and block exports, the report, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, acknowledges.

However, it says, they do not go far enough in controlling the licensing of British arms production in foreign countries, monitoring where British arms exports end up, and brokering by British arms dealers based overseas.

The government has increased its arms exports to both India and Pakistan despite guidelines saying it should not sell weapons to countries in unstable regions and where they might exacerbate existing conflicts, the report shows.

It says that open export licences - where there is no limit on arms sales - were approved to a number of countries with poor human rights records, including Egypt, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

The report points out that Britain is the world's second largest exporter of arms, with the Blair government approving sales of £45bn worth of military equipment and services.

It also points out that the government argues that arms exports not only provide jobs but help to sustain arms companies and therefore some of the country's "key sovereign capabilities".

Saferworld says that the government exaggerates the significance of arms exports for British jobs.

It refers to studies that say that the number of people engaged in defence exports is less than 50,000, much less than the number of people who change jobs in any given month or two.

The report also shows how the government has used national security grounds to defend the sale of equipment which would otherwise breach its guidelines.

It says that when BAE Systems sold cockpit displays for US F-16 aircraft exported to Israel, Jack Straw, the then-foreign secretary, defended the deal on the grounds of "the importance of maintaining a strong and dynamic defence relationship with the US".

The report states: "A fundamental paradox lies at the heart of Labour's approach to arms exports: the government claims it has a foreign policy with an 'ethical dimension', yet there is no guarantee that such a policy wins the day when it comes to arms exports.

"Instead, as the cancellation of the SFO inquiry into BAE Systems' dealings with Saudi Arabia demonstrates, when push comes to shove, other interests appear to hold sway".

Today's report also estimates that arms exports are subsidised to the tune of at least £450m a year through government promotion, research and development.

Saferworld says that Gordon Brown's new administration should agree to tighter rules, including a "presumption of denial" for arms sales to countries of concern, implement fully international anti-corruption agreements and give parliament more control over the weapons trade.

Claire Hickson of Saferworld said: "The change in leadership presents an ideal opportunity for the government to redeem its ultimately disappointing record on arms exports."

Ethical? Some recent arms deals

· Between 1999 and 2006, the government licensed the export of £500m of military-related equipment to China, which is under an EU arms embargo

· In 2001, the government exported an air traffic control system to Tanzania which the World Bank said was unsuitable for the country's needs and was overpriced at £28m

· Britain has agreed to sell Saudi Arabia 72 Eurofighter aircraft in a deal worth an estimated £10bn

· British Scorpion tanks were used in demonstrations in which protestors were killed in Indonesia in 1998. The following year, the Indonesian air force flew British Hawk jets to intimidate the population of East Timor, which has since gained independence

· British arms worth more than £130m have been licensed for export to Iraq since the invasion in 2003

· The Labour government has licensed more than £110m worth of military equipment to Israel

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