Our cover story this month starkly exposes how Britain became complicit in humanitarian crimesby Tom Clark / March 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
It was, of all people, US Senator Bernie Sanders who recently found himself snared in the ethical thicket that always surrounds the making of arms. In 2005, no doubt with an eye on votes in rural Vermont, he had backed a law that protects gun manufacturers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products. Today, as a challenger for the presidency, “guns don’t kill people, people do” is not an argument that he can sell to the Democratic base. Instead, he concedes that he cast a “bad vote.”
It isn’t only in America that problems in the business of armaments can lead to politicians and public life being sorely compromised. In 2006, Tony Blair effectively suspended the rule of law for the benefit of a major arms dealer and a major arms customer, when he leaned on his attorney general to pull the plug on the Serious Fraud Office’s corruption probe into BAE Systems. The former prime minister did not disguise that he judged the security links with Saudi Arabia and manufacturing jobs in the UK to be of overriding importance, but the whole affair stank.
He wasn’t the first British prime minister to be tainted by cosying up to our defence sector and its premium Saudi customer—Margaret Thatcher had lavished great attention on securing the original Al-Yamamah deal with Riyadh. Nor is he the last. As Arron Merat reports from Glenrothes in Scotland, where electronic components for bombs bound for the Middle East are made, only last year the UK government was caught licensing sales while unlawfully disregarding the Saudi record of trampling on human rights. The Court of Appeal ruling named individual ministers, Boris Johnson included, but its practical bite is doubtful. Raytheon UK, a fully-owned subsidiary of Raytheon in America, is still able to supply components across the Atlantic. From the US, bombs continue to make their way to the Middle East. And there the Saudis, well-stocked with western arms, attack civilian targets in Yemen and destroy the infrastructure on which day-to-day life depends in their impoverished southern neighbour.
It is the sheer scale of the suffering in Yemen—a couple of years ago in our pages, the award-winning journalist Iona Craig forcefully argued it had become the worst humanitarian crisis in the world—that shows the…