In an opinion piece, the U.K. foreign secretary has argued against ending the country’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Writing in Politico’s Europe edition on March 26, 2019, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, even as the British government has received criticism at home over the weapons’ usage in the war in Yemen. He made a point of saying that the ongoing conflict in Yemen began in 2014, with rebel group Ansar Allah’s take-over of the capital Sana’a, and Saudi Arabia joining in the following year, in March.
The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the Kingdom’s ally United Arab Emirates, has pushed Ansar Allah out of some key areas of the country, but the group retains control of Sana’a. Tens of thousands have been killed and wounded in the fighting, and severe shortages of food and medicine have been reported throughout much of Yemen.
The U.N. and human rights organizations have blamed the Saudi-led air campaign for much of the carnage. Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, a U.K. rights organization working to pressure the British government over its support of Saudi Arabia, said in a press release, “This terrible war would not be possible without the political and military support of arms dealing governments like the UK. As the war enters its fifth year, it has only become more urgent that they do the right thing, and finally end the arms sales.”
While Saudi Arabia has acknowledged civilian deaths from its campaign, the country has rejected accusations that it targets civilians deliberately.
Pointing to progress in peace talks in his opinion piece, the foreign secretary noted, “Britain’s history and our values require us to play our part in making a constructive difference in the Middle East,” adding that the U.K.’s “unique links” to the Middle East region – specifically the “strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates” – give it the ability to do so.
These links, Foreign Secretary Hunt argued, would be damaged in the event of the U.K. terminating arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which would make the U.K. “irrelevant to the course of events in Yemen.” He called this policy course “morally bankrupt,” suggesting that “[w]e would have been unlikely to see Stockholm or the ceasefire that is now broadly holding in Hodeidah” had the U.K. canceled weapons deals with Saudi Arabia. He referred to an agreement reached late last year in Stockholm between Ansar Allah and the deposed government of Yemen.
As the Yemen war has unfolded, numerous European governments have reconsidered their weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other participants in the conflict. Germany, notably, has placed a hold on arms sales to Riyadh, which will last until the end of March, at least. However, key suppliers like the U.K. and France have continued cooperation with Saudi Arabia, pointing to their strategic partnerships with the country. The U.S. under President Donald Trump has remained a staunch supporter of Saudi Arabia.