Ukrainian protesters at the French ambassador's residence in Kiev, protesting sale of Mistral warships to Russia, July 14, 2014.
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Ukrainian protesters at the French ambassador's residence in Kiev, protesting sale of Mistral warships to Russia, July 14, 2014.

Story highlights

Molly Scott Cato says UK, France have not demonstrated decency as they've defended arms trade

She says a culture of shamelessness amongst arms traders and their political friends remains unchallenged

The Green MEP says that, even if people don't want an arms ban, they should not treat industry like others

Editor’s Note: Molly Scott Cato is the first Green MEP to be elected to South West England. She sits on the Economics and Monetary Committee in the European Parliament and is finance speaker for the Green Party of England and Wales. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

The recent controversy over arms sales to Russia reminds me of an interesting exchange during a hustings I took part in during the 2009 European Election campaign.

We were in the Friends Meeting House in Gloucester and, being a Quaker, I felt very at home. A question came up about the arms trade and I fully expected to be ridiculed for being an absurd idealist.

I said that some products should not be part of a market system and that arms were one of those. To my astonishment, all but one of the candidates agreed. The candidate who disagreed, a Tory, at least had the decency to look sheepish about defending this trade in the weapons of death.

The prime ministers of the UK and France have not demonstrated even this level of decency in recent days as they have sought to defend the sale of military equipment to Russia.

This first came to my attention in the European Parliament debate on Ukraine when a French member of our group challenged his compatriot for removing from our motion a call on the French government to ban the export of Mistral helicopter carriers and end the training of 400 Russian sailors at St. Nazaire.

This questionable deal has become considerably more embarrassing since the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Yet despite French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ earlier comments that if relations deteriorated he would ban the deal, the culture of shamelessness amongst arms traders and their political friends remains unchallenged and it is expected to proceed.

The unseemly trading of accusations of hypocrisy across the English Channel does nothing to build the confidence of the victims of the world’s conflicts that our countries are concerned for their plight.

Export licenses for UK arms exports to Russia increased in the last 12 months at the very time that our prime minister and Foreign Secretary were mouthing meaningless platitudes about getting tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, while money talks, the children suffering in the world’s conflicts zones are condemned to silence.

Which brings me to Gaza. By international consensus Israel is not a regime that is guilty of abusing human rights and so is an excellent market for arms exports: the UK agreed licenses worth over £10 million just last year, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade.