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the arabian connection


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- smart procurement
- working together
- preservation order
- arabian connection
- conversion a faded ideal
- breaking the silence


THE BULK OF the UK arms trade to Saudi Arabia, Al Yamamah, came about because of US congressional reluctance to supply the kingdom. The UK had no qualms and eagerly stepped into the gap.

Ethical and security considerations should have prevented the UK government from taking such a step. By supplying Saudi Arabia the UK is endorsing its brutal regime and diminishing the importance of human rights and political freedom. There is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that Saudi Arabia is far from a reliable end-user of UK weapons. Saudi Arabia has secretly funded resistance movements around the world, often at the behest of certain elements in the US Administration in return for arms packages, and strong evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia diverted arms to Iraq via Jordan and funded the Iraqi nuclear programme in order to acquire its own nuclear capability, despite signing the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty in 1988.

The Middle East in general is a volatile area and the UK cannot be certain that the weapons that it has lavished on Saudi Arabia will not be turned against the UK itself. Despite the lessons of the Gulf War and the Middle East Arms Control Initiative which followed it, the UK has continued to supply an already ‘arms saturated’ kingdom: such behaviour does indeed seem ‘more likely to diminish the UK’s military security in the long run than reinforce it’.

Economic analysis also provides little to defend the Al Yamamah deals. Despite the dubious profit margins and the UK’s dangerous overreliance on the Saudi market, the Al Yamamah contracts are still portrayed as an economic godsend: expert research reveals that this is not the case, and that at best, the economic profits are unclear; or ‘questionable; and ‘may even be negative’ . Even if the profits for the UK were substantial, to see weapons of destruction as a trading commodity is ‘a serious error of judgement’.

When the lack of any real economic benefit is considered, the motivation behind the deals becomes suspect. Neil Cooper, in his thorough analysis of the UK arms trade, maintains that ‘there is much to suggest that the initial Al Yamamah agreement was less a function of either price competitiveness or equipment performance than it was of other considerations’. The ‘other considerations’ are the persistent reports of corruption which have dogged Al Yamamah from its inception as the pet project of Reagan and Thatcher. Scandal over the arming of the ‘contras’, the Iraqi nuclear partnership, the customs regulations breaches, the numerous allegations of bribery and government corruption, including the nonpublication of the National Audit Office report and the infamous Aitken case, all surround Al Yamamah.

This briefing, having examined the evidence available and consulted the work of respected academics and economists, concludes that it is clear no one has profited by the UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia except the middlemen. Lavishing such huge amounts of weaponry on the kingdom has returned no significant economic profit, it has weakened the security of both countries and undermined our government’s integrity. The campaign for the publication of the NAO report into Al Yamamah continues, and perhaps as the deal winds down this may be forthcoming, though as yet there is no sign of such a move. More importantly, it is to be hoped that more responsible decision making will end arms sales in general, but more specifically to a kingdom ‘not yet in crisis but facing serious economic and social problems’.

FROM The Arabian Connection. Chrissie Hirst. CAAT. Price £3.00


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