In a report released today, Saferworld calls on the incoming Labour leadership to radically change Labour's approach to arms exports. Ten years after the promise to have a foreign policy with an "ethical dimension", 'good' arms export policies have been undermined by 'bad' implementation and 'ugly' practice.
During its term in office, Labour has re-written the UK's export control laws and shown real leadership internationally, including championing the international Arms Trade Treaty. However, these have been overshadowed by poor implementation and by decisions that have flouted the Government's own criteria. As the cancellation of the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into BAE Systems dealings with Saudi Arabia demonstrates, when push comes to shove, other interests appear to hold sway.
The Government has consistently approved military exports to countries accused of violating human rights. In the three years from 2004 to 2006, for example, arms exports were approved to 19 of the 20 countries identified by the Government in its Human Rights report as "countries of concern," including Colombia, Israel, Indonesia and Nepal.
The report examines the possible reasons why the Government has been prepared to make 'ugly' decisions, choosing to allow and promote arms exports that contradict its own policies. It argues that the desire to cement relations with certain states, and the willingness of the Government - particularly, it would appear, Tony Blair - to yield to the influence of arms companies have been critical factors behind a number of these decisions.
The arrival of a new Prime Minister and a scheduled review of UK arms export legislation in the next few months mean there is no better time for the Government to act on the report's recommendations to improve controls, as well as to ensure better enforcement.
Claire Hickson, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Saferworld, said:
"The last ten years have witnessed a number of 'good' policies undermined by 'bad' implementation, and numerous examples of outright 'ugly' practice."
"The Government has failed to treat corruption in the arms trade with due seriousness, as demonstrated by the recent decision to halt the Serious Fraud Office's enquiry into allegations of corruption in arms deals with Saudi Arabia. This contradicts the Government's own policy statements about the need to tackle corruption and illustrates its willingness to bend the rules when it sees fit."
"The change in leadership and the current review of the Export Control Act present an ideal opportunity for the Government to redeem its ultimately disappointing record on arms exports. This report challenges the new Labour leadership to improve its policies but also to ensure that it is those policies, rather than other considerations, that determine practice. Otherwise, the Government's record will remain ethical only in theory."
The report can be downloaded from the publications section, at http://www.saferworld.org.uk/publications.php?id=264