Arming abusive regimes and glamorising death

Don’t worry about post-Brexit GDP. Just double UK arms exports.

The platitudes reiterated during last year’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the 1914-18 War predictably fell on deaf ears. War is big business and today it’s business as usual.

Arms deals are usually covert. No one trumpets the sale of cluster bombs whose casing splits open in mid-air, releasing a shower of murderous bomblets that explode upon impact. Cluster bombs have both fragmentation and anti-armour capabilities. Imagine what they do to people.

Then there is the so-called Mother of All Bombs (MOAB), first tested in 2003. It is the largest conventional weapon (22,000-pound bomb) in the U.S. arsenal, whose potential damage is so vast that the Pentagon ordered a legal review to ensure that it would not be deemed an “indiscriminate killer” under the Law of Armed Conflict, which regulates military action during wartime.

Apparently, there are few places where the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, as the MOAB is officially known, can be used, because of the extent of its impact and the danger it poses to civilians. It does not penetrate the ground but sets off a colossal pressure wave and a giant fireball.

The United Kingdom may have qualms about using such weapons, but it sells them according to the US National Rifle Association’s dictum that it is not the gun that kills but the person pulling the trigger. In “The London arms fair is an inexcusable disgrace – it’s a stain on the nation” (The Guardian, 9 September 2019), Simon Jenkins argued:

“That a nation should seek to defend itself from external aggression is understandable. Where the country is a British ally, it is reasonable to help it with weapons. This applies to very few countries round the world, and even fewer of those likely to buy the guns, tanks, ships, missiles and drones on display at the Excel centre this week. As anyone who has visited this show in the past knows, it is the most awesome glamorisation of death on the planet.”

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) records military export licences to the tune of £44bn since data collection began in 2008. £5.3bn went to Saudi Arabia alone since its bombing of Yemen started in March 2015 and £2.4bn to the UK’s own list of “countries of concern”.

Speaking of this year’s Defence & Security Equipment International fair, CAAT said:

“The guest list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. They are in London for one reason only, and that is to buy as many weapons as possible. There is no way of knowing how these weapons will be used or who they will be used against. DSEI exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The Government may talk a lot about the importance of human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting some of the most abusive regimes in the world.”

The international arms trade is highly lucrative and lacks legal oversight. The market involves the manufacture, selling, buying, and licensing of military equipment, weapons, and facilities such as small arms, armoured vehicles, military ships, ammunition, and military aircraft. Imports are mainly driven by economic growth, territorial disputes, and political alignments. Most of the importing countries buy arms from more developed countries with the capability to engineer high-quality arsenals.

The UK is one of them. Instead of focusing on national defence, it is aiding and abetting what Shakespeare in Henry IV Part 1 calls:

“The fire-eyed maid of smoky war
All hot and bleeding…”

No wonder the country has lost touch with reality.

Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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