Much more than a foot in the door

Publication date: 
mercredi, October 3, 2012
Ann Feltham, Campaign Against Arms Trade

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK has long kept an eye on the cosy relationship between the military manufacturers and the UK government. With 'FoI' they expose what is going on and undermine the cosy relationship between military industry and the government.

ALTER-EU newsletter contribution CAAT

Executive summary / policy recommendations: 

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK has long kept an eye on the cosy relationship between the military manufacturers and the UK government. The institutionalised double-act would seem to offer at least a partial explanation as to why, despite corruption scandals and the undermining other policies such as the promotion of human rights,  successive UK governments have been enthusiastic arms pushers.  Prime Minister David Cameron's arms sales trips to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and elsewhere follow a long established tradition, enthusiastically espoused by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The latter even visited Gadaffi to drum up arms sales for UK companies.

These Prime Ministerial trips are a public tip of a support iceberg. In the UK a Government arms export promotion unit was set up in 1966. Originally in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it is now the UK Trade & Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), located within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The wages of its approximately 150 staff, both civilian and military, are met by the taxpayer, but work solely to promote the export of goods of commercial companies.

Not content with this, in 2012 the MoD appointed its own Director of Exports and Commercial Strategy. CAAT used the UK's Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation, which came into force in 2005, to ask for a list of her appointments. A similar request had been made regarding the meetings attended by UKTI DSO's Middle East Director. We were given long lists of meetings attended by civil servants, often from several departments, and the arms companies as they plotted how to sell Eurofighter Typhoons to the United Arab Emirates or planned another arms sales trip for David Cameron, this time to India. The Middle East Director discussed sales to Iraq and Libya with a BAE Systems' representative at "one of London's finest Italian restaurants". Other diaries would, no doubt, reveal more of the same - the day to day efforts of the Government to help the companies sell their deadly wares.

Sometimes the links are even closer. The massive Saudi Arabia contracts are government-to-government deals with the UK government having a second contract with BAE as prime contractor. To support this there is the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Project (MODSAP) within the UK MoD. Its staff, around 200 of them, both military and civil, based in the UK and Saudi Arabia, are paid for by the Saudi government. This gives the authoritarian Saudi regime a foothold in the UK establishment and allows a commercial firm to benefit.

The entanglement of BAE's commercial interest with the UK government is further shown by British Offset. Situated within MODSAP, it is staffed jointly by UK government and BAE employees. It manages a £1billion investment which "offers unprecedented opportunities for international companies to take part in lucrative joint ventures with Saudi Arabia." 

The "revolving door" is at work too. Former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who had awarded AgustaWestland a £1billion contract without competition, is now at AgustaWestland as Vice-President of International Business. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is now international business development director for BAE while former Chief of the Air Staff Sir Glenn Torpy has also gone to BAE as an advisor. Politician, career civil servant and former military man. These are just prominent examples of a flow of people from government to the arms companies, bringing knowledge of how the public sector works as well as useful contacts.

BAE also works with the trade unions to make sure that MPs know just people in their constituency works for the company. However, with many arms company jobs going overseas, it is open to question how long this will be a successful tactic.

However, it is not all gloom. The UK's involvement in overseas wars, vast military expenditure despite austerity, sales to Gadaffi - all are leading more people to question the military role as well as arms production and trade. FoI is helping campaigners expose what is going on. Hopefully, this will undermine the cosy relationship between military industry and the government.