Sympathy for the devil?
Arron Merat judiciously lays out the painful moral dilemmas in Britain’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia (“Making a killing,” April). Still, he underestimates the painful choices facing Whitehall decision-makers.
The defence company on which Merat focuses is a Scottish-based American subsidiary; should its (indirect) Saudi sales disappear, production lines would simply be repatriated to the US, and skilled Scottish workers would be consigned to the dole queue.
Merat is also wrong to imply that we have leverage because the Saudis are stuck with our technology. The UK no longer features even among the top five global arms exporters. Autonomous weapon systems such as drones can be bought off the shelf and can deliver just as lethal a firepower as the systems Britain sells.
My institute hosted numerous Saudi senior officers, all trying to justify their country’s involvement in Yemen. Not all offered believable justifications. But all felt compelled to come, precisely because of the military ties between the UK and their kingdom.
I doubt that they’d feel the same restraining obligation should most of their future weapon supplies come from, say, China.
Jonathan Eyal, Associate Director, Royal United Services Institute
Merat’s excellent article should be read by anyone concerned at the “moral contagion” that comes with selling weaponry at almost any cost. It is not remotely good enough for arms companies to say they aren’t responsible for how their hardware is used.
For five years, the Saudi Arabia- led coalition has unleashed massive quantities of bombs in Yemen, including well-documented cases of schools and hospitals being hit. The UK government should long ago have suspended all arms exports that risked adding to this carnage. Even now, it should block all pre-existing Saudi arms sales while the risk remains.
We need to see a major overhaul of the UK’s dysfunctional arms licensing system. It should start with immediate reestablishment of the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls to properly hold ministers to account. Meanwhile, companies like Raytheon should stop washing their hands of responsibility.
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
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