Arms sales could cost the UK more than they earn

  1. It is immoral for UK companies to have sold arms to 29 of the FCO’s 30 Human Rights Priority Countries over the past decade.[1]

The sales undermine human rights, democracy and good governance and legitimise abusive governments.

  1. Arms sales can be illegal if the Government has not done the necessary assessment of the actions of the recipient. The applicable laws (Irwin and Singh, 2019) are:
  • Section 5(2) of the Export Control Act 2002 which provides that controls may be imposed on the export of arms and military equipment for the purpose of giving effect to any EU provision or other international obligation of the UK;
  • The “EU Common Position” of 2008 defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment. Criterion Two requires:

“Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country for international humanitarian law.

Having assessed the recipient country’s attitudes towards relevant principles established by international humanitarian rights instruments, Member States shall: […]

(b) exercise special caution and vigilance in granting licences, on a case-by-case basis and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the United Nations, the European Union or by the Council of Europe; …

Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by instruments of international humanitarian law, Member States shall:

(c) deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

  1. Ultimately, the sales of arms to abusive regimes harm the UK. The costs borne as a result of the consequences of arms sales may exceed the revenues earned by the UK arms industry.

The UK arms industry earned £12B from the sales of arms to 29/30 of the FCO’s Human Rights Priorities Countries, 2008-17 (Overton et al., 2018)[2] (0.42% of goods exported for that period, and just 0.07% of GDP (World Bank, 2019)).

£12B is, of course, a gross amount. Some portion of it is spent on parts made abroad; and that which does circulate back into the UK economy (as opposed to spent on services abroad or products from abroad) does not necessarily return via taxable channels.

Another deductible from this £12B gross figure are the indirect subsidies received by arms manufacturers from the Ministry of Defence in the form of inflated prices to the Ministry of Defence and £1.8B of research grants, which are then poorly disseminated across the economy.

This could be less than what the Home Office, DfID and MOD end up paying to cover the damage incurred as a result of arms sales. It is plausible that the arms trade could be a contributing factor to

  • the extent to which wars are waged and peacekeeping operations in which the MOD is engaged,
  • the extent to which refugees are created, move to the UK and then are sheltered in the UK (the countries of origin of refugees matches countries on the Human Rights Priorities List to which the UK has exported arms (Sturge, 2019b)),
  • the radicalisation of those who would harm Britain (Alibhai-Brown, 2018).[3]

19 7 16 Home Office MOD DfID spending on refugees

Sources: UK Government, no date; Ministry of Defence, 2018, p. 19; Department for International Development, 2019, p. 163; Home Office, 2019, p. 131; Sturge, 2019

[1] Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burundi, CAR, China, Colombia, DRC, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Maldives, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Arms were not sold to North Korea.

[2] Across a decade, Saudi Arabia constitutes 86% of the total value of arms sales to those on the FCO’s ‘Priority Countries List’. Nonetheless, six other countries have had over £100 million of approved military export licenses from the FCO’s ‘priorities countries list’ – Israel, Egypt, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia.

[3] ”Every brutal regime we arm has a growing young population. Their anger is no longer containable. More and more of them are becoming dangerous or deranged or both. They get pulled into webs of violent extremism […].The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi was the child of a disorderly Arab nation- Libya- and Blair’s interventionist, crypto-imperialist proclivities. Our global political games are not only endangering black and brown natives far away, they are compromising the safety of western citizens.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s