Britain under fire for growing arms trade
Critics: Human rights may be jeopardized
March 4, 1997
Web posted at: 5:38 p.m. EDT (1738 GMT)
From Correspondent Margaret Lowrie
LONDON (CNN) -- The Cold War may be over, but British
exports of military technology are actually growing.
Officials are proud that Britain's production of weaponry and
technology now puts it second only to the United States in
military exports around the world.
"It's an important part of the economy," said James
Arbuthnot, British defense procurement minister.
"We have achieved exports of just over 5 billion pounds
($8 billion) in 1996, at a time when the world defense market
is shrinking," he said.
But the nonprofit activist group Amnesty International says
Britain shouldn't let business concerns override human
rights. The group says the British government supplies
repressive regimes, and loopholes in the law allow some
private arms traders to broker illegal deals from London.
Tighter controls sought
"We have been involved in the export of equipment to
countries like Indonesia -- to NATO allies like Turkey, for
example, where torture has been very well documented; to the
former Rwanda Hutu regime, the perpetrators of genocide.
There have been allegations that a U.K. company was
involved," said Fiona Weir of Amnesty International UK.
"Britain also tries to supply Brazil and a number of other
countries in Latin America, Pakistan, India, the Philippines,
Thailand -- anywhere in the world where somebody is looking
to buy arms, the British government is in there trying to
sell," said Will McMahon of the Campaign Against the Arms
Arms trade opponents want tighter controls.
"The trade is shrouded in secrecy," Weir said. "The only
solution is to get registers of the deals that are being
licensed, to get public scrutiny by Parliament and by NGOs
British officials say they scrutinize sales carefully and
obey international law and embargoes. They say they want to
promote regional stability.
"It's not an immoral thing of itself to provide other
countries with the equipment, the high-tech equipment often
that they need to defend themselves," Arbuthnot said.
But critics say the motive is not to support self-defense,
but British self-interest.
"Saudi Arabia is sitting on large amounts of oil," McMahon
said. "That's why Britain sells arms there. Why does Britain
sell arms to Indonesia? Britain sells arms to Indonesia
because again in East Timor there is an oil field which they
wish to exploit.
"The idea they are selling them for self-defense is simply
Arms trade critics suggest that with a dwindling military
market, Britain and other arms manufacturers would do better
to invest in expanding civilian industries.
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