Is UK foreign policy up for sale?
The huge Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair, held every two years, will meet at the ExCeL Centre in London from 12 September. Our government is keen for the UK to be established as the world’s second largest arms exporter, an accolade for which we are competing alongside Russia, China and France.The department for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) boasts that on a rolling ten-year basis the UK has already reached the position of second largest arms exporter globally. “Notable success … Continue reading The arms fair is heavily supported by the UK Government to help achieve this objective. At least four Secretaries of State or Government ministers will be giving key note speeches at DSEI in 2017. The 2015 conference saw attendance by at least 8 frontbench ministers. https://www.defenceonline.co.uk/event/dsei/ Involving 35,000 people, DSEI will bring together arms companies and weapons buyers from all over the world, including from some of the world’s most oppressive regimes.
For some Christians the DSEI arms fair has long been a subject of protest, as has the Government’s use of UK taxpayer’s money to provide subsidies to UK arms exporters. This article explores some issues around the arms trade, Christian witness and questions the impact of defence exports on foreign policy. It draws on studies, commentaries and resources produced by our churches although the views expressed are those of the author.
Two areas on which Christians will broadly agree
Where do our churches stand on the arms trade? Firstly we could note a couple of areas of clear agreement.
Arms must not be sold when there is a risk that they may be used to further oppression or support human rights abuses. Church members campaigned vigorously for the introduction of an international Arms Trade Treaty. The UK Government became an important international advocate for a strong treaty text and an early adopter of the treaty in 2014.
Secondly weapons that are indiscriminate in their effect and will inevitably kill civilians are immoral. These include landmines, cluster munitions, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons; most of these categories of weapons are considered illegitimate under international humanitarian law and their use and threat of use is explicitly banned by treaties or conventions. Until recently nuclear weapons were the only category of indiscriminate weapons that were not subject to a legal ban. That legal gap has been filled with the introduction on 20 September 2017 of … Continue reading
The intrinsic nature of arms
Beyond these two areas, views on the UK’s arms industry may be more varied and diverse. Our Churches recognise the necessity, under exceptional circumstances, for the UK to have to resort to armed force, so should we not also support the industry that provides the tools to enable military intervention, stabilisation and defence? After all, the livelihoods of some in our communities depend on the defence industry. Can’t the manufacture of weapons be just?
While the Christian Just War tradition proposes that, exceptionally, justice may be achieved through military action, it does not follow that we can attach intrinsic social value to armaments. Our churches teach that the use of armed force, even when justifiable in certain limited circumstances, has its roots in human sinfulness and is a visible sign of the brokenness of human relationship in our fallen world.
Church of England: “The Church and the Armed Forces Covenant: A report by the Mission and Public Affairs” Council https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2010579/gs%201960%20-%20the%20church%20and%20the%20armed%20forces%20covenant.pdf #DisarmChurchHouse. It would seem difficult therefore to promote the virtue of profiting from the tools of lethal force and yet at the same time give testimony to the pacific nature of God to whom look for our redemption.
We are reminded that war is, in the words of First World War survivor, Harry Patch, “a bloody and destructive business”Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation (a very graphic account of war is provided by Harry Patch) fuelling enmity and hatred and creating mental trauma that can last a lot longer than the physical scars of war.
But, you might argue, weapons can be used responsibly when placed in responsible hands where they can be used to deter as well as to protect. Should we not concentrate on building our nation’s relationships with responsible states that share our values? In response, we should but our engagement with such states must be focused first and foremost on building true and lasting peace.
In some circumstances a suppression of hostilities can be brought about through coercion and threat that consequently avoids resort to military action. But true peace is not simply the absence of war. Rather it emerges from an understanding and accommodation built on mutual dependence and trust. Diplomacy, at its best, seeks to develop such understanding and the UK has an enviable record of a highly professional and capable diplomatic service. The Churches’ report ‘Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation’Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation is a report of the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church and can be obtained by writing to email@example.com outlines strategies for preventing violent conflict and calls on Christian’s to be active with their Governments to encourage non-violent peacebuilding. Responsible governments will seek to build the conditions and relationships that will enable arms control and disarmament to take place. They should not be content to exert influence through threats.
Pursuing the national interest
It is frequently stated that the responsibility of any government is to protect its people from external attack. But the UK’s approach to the defence of the realm has a broader objective. The UK military exists to “protect the security, independence and interests of our country at home and abroad”. Our national interest includes upholding the values of our nation and ensuring that our economic interests are protected. Our values and interests extend to countering human trafficking, the protection of women and minorities, and countering violent extremism. Our defence forces are also employed to protect the UK’s economic interests (for example, in the work of the Royal Navy to protect international shipping lanes). In conflict prone settings the UK’s military power can help coerce or support governments in progressing these and other goals.
But we are reminded that Jesus lived in a world of vested interests, powerful institutions and with the reality of evil; in this respect he lived in a world not unlike our own. Jesus refused power as the world understands it, and used only the weapons of truth. In the life of Jesus we see the embodiment of God who seeks to grow and expand his way of living among all humanity. Church of Scotland, Ethics of Defence, 2009. Section 2 ‘A Biblical Perspective’
The UK’s narrow economic interest in weapons of war, rather than weapons of truth, influences our stance towards governments. This is made only too clear with our relationship with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest arms importer. Corruption is more prevalent in defence than in any other industry. In 2006 this was to be revealed by a Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the BAE Systems relationship with the Saudi Government. However the legal process was halted by order of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the basis of his interpretation of the UK’s national interest. Others may view our ‘national interest’ differently.
The UK’s relationship with human rights abusers
Although claiming to have one of the strongest export control regimes in the world, the UK government is reluctant to let ethics curb its ambition to develop markets for the UK’s weapons industry. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016 identifies 30 countries of concern. The UK Government gave delegations from 8 of these 30 countries VIP status at the 2015 DSEI Arms Fair.They are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan. (Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House … Continue reading Other countries not included in the list of 30 but where oppression, corruption and human rights abuses also blight people’s lives, were also given VIP status in 2015 including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Philippines, Brunei Darussalam and Angola.DSEI: VIP delegations https://www.dsei.co.uk/why-exhibit/vip-attendance-2015#/
UK Government over-emphasis on the Defence sector
The UK defence industry is highly enmeshed with the offices of Government. There exists a revolving door of ex-government ministers and senior Whitehall figures who serve on the boards of arms companies and representatives of those companies obtain close access to the process of government.“Senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years, according to figures that reveal the extent of the … Continue reading
Defence industry export sales are supported by Government like no other industrial sector. The Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) cost the tax payer £15 million a year before it was closed in 2009 following objections from MPs and the public. Its Saudi Arabia sales section was hived off to the Ministry of Defence. The rest of its work has been taken on by its successor in Whitehall, the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO). This still has a net cost to the taxpayer of around £4 million per year. UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) has 8 staff to support trade and investment in the UK’s education sector and 13 to support healthcare services. Support for the export of offshore wind turbine technology has recently increased from 1 person to 2. In comparison 122 government officers are employed to support the defence industryWithin the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO) which has now been moved from UKTI to the newly formed Department of International Trade under Liam Fox MP. and you have to add to this number 20 senior posts in diplomatic missions and many others within the Ministry of Defence.
It is the nature of a free market system that the profit motive comes first. The exploitation of arms exports for financial gain have had a strong hold over successive UK Government administrations as a result of the powerful influence of the arms industry. This shows little sign of being diminished or moderated today.
Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its conflict in Yemen
The tragic conflict in Yemen has seen the loss of life of around 10,000 civilians with atrocities carried out by parties on both sides of the conflict. The largest single cause of death is likely to arise from the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of civilian areas with UK built Typhoon aircraft. The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into possible crimes against humanity. The UK Government has resisted efforts to put pressure on the Government of Saudi Arabia to permit an independent international inquiry. At the same time our government has defended at a judicial review its decision not to suspend arms exports, including further aircraft deals to be negotiated with Saudi Arabia. It asserts that there is no clear risk that UK exports might be used by Saudi Arabia to compromise human rights. During the General Election campaign Amber Rudd defended the UK’s sales to Saudi Arabia as the UK requires “a strong economy” and “a strong industry”.
Given the UK Government’s refusal to support independent international investigation and its green light to further sales of aircraft components, bombs and missiles, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the UK will be complicit in further deaths resulting from aerial bombing of civilian areas in Yemen. TAKE ACTION
The DSEI Arms Fair and Christian protest
Our churches have questioned the DSEI Arms Fair in previous years. When 5 Christians, including a probationary Methodist Minister, were arrested at the 2013 Arms Fair, Dr Rowan Williams and Revd Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church made supportive public statements. “We concur with the defendants claim that there is an honourable tradition in the Christian church, going back to Jesus himself, of non-violent direct action against practices that promote death … Continue reading
Ten years ago the DSEI Arms Fair was highly profitable part of the publishing company Reed Elsevier, although it represented only 1% of their business. In 2007 the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church (CFB) met with senior executives of Reed Elsevier and followed this up with further correspondence and dialogue. The CFB explained why the DSEI business left them uncomfortable as an investor. Meanwhile, the editors of the Lancet, another Reed Elsevier business, campaigned for the company to “divest of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and wellbeing”. Reed Elsevier capitulated selling the DSEI business in 2008 with the acknowledgement that it was “no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier’s position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content”.
This leading UK company concurred, however reluctantly, with the view of their stakeholders that arms sales cannot be construed as a social good.
On Tuesday 5th September, faith groups of all kinds will come together at the ExCeL Centre for a day of worshipful and peaceful nonviolent resistance and prayer.
There is no doubt that our arms export industry impacts on British foreign policy and the alliances that we cultivate.“Foreign governments do not buy from an individual manufacturer – they buy from the UK, and the relationship they have is with the UK government,” Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, UK … Continue reading This is particularly clear with respect to policy in the volatile Middle East (our largest export market) where UK arms sales are a policy interest in their own right.This is clear from various government statements. Also see Peter Oborne’s account of a discussion with a Foreign Office official retold at a seminar at Greenbelt 2017 – foreign policy up for … Continue reading This grossly complicates our ability to support de-escalation of conflict across the Middle-East.
There could be value in further theological discussion within our churches of the essential nature of arms and their contribution or otherwise to the social good. Meanwhile it would seem that there is a more urgent task before us. That is to persuade the UK public and MPs, through campaign action and in other ways, that the UK can employ its talents and workforce to more socially productive pursuits than the production and export of weaponry. Until then, the UK’s drive to sell arms will continue to harm our standing on human rights and good governance.
Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation (The Methodist Church and United Reformed Church: 2006). Summary
Full report available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethics of Defence (Church of Scotland: 2009)
Prayers and Actions Challenging the DSEI Arms Fair (Pax Christi)
Joint Statement on Syria (The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, December 2015)
Action on Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia (updated June 2017)
|↑1||The department for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) boasts that on a rolling ten-year basis the UK has already reached the position of second largest arms exporter globally. “Notable success stories for the UK include companies winning contracts with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Thailand”. UKTI Defence and Security Export Statistics 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/541330/20160727_-_Official_Statistics_-_UKTI_DSO_Core_Slides_for_2015_-_Final_Version.pdf|
|↑2||Until recently nuclear weapons were the only category of indiscriminate weapons that were not subject to a legal ban. That legal gap has been filled with the introduction on 20 September 2017 of the Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Nuclear Ban Treaty). Once this has been ratified by at least 50 states it will enter into force. See Nuclear Ban Treaty briefing.|
|↑3||Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation (a very graphic account of war is provided by Harry Patch)|
|↑4||Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation is a report of the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church and can be obtained by writing to email@example.com|
|↑5||Church of Scotland, Ethics of Defence, 2009. Section 2 ‘A Biblical Perspective’|
|↑6||They are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan. (Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House “Freedom in the world” report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s human rights watch list.) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-is-now-the-second-biggest-arms-dealer-in-the-world-a7225351.html|
|↑7||DSEI: VIP delegations https://www.dsei.co.uk/why-exhibit/vip-attendance-2015#/|
|↑8||“Senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years, according to figures that reveal the extent of the “revolving door” between the public and private sector. The Guardian Research in 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/oct/15/mod-military-arms-firms|
|↑9||Within the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO) which has now been moved from UKTI to the newly formed Department of International Trade under Liam Fox MP.|
|↑10||“We concur with the defendants claim that there is an honourable tradition in the Christian church, going back to Jesus himself, of non-violent direct action against practices that promote death and injustice”. Revd Roberta Rominger, URC news release|
|↑11||“Foreign governments do not buy from an individual manufacturer – they buy from the UK, and the relationship they have is with the UK government,” Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, UK Defence Trade body supporting the Arms Fair. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/12/british-arms-deals-with-saudi-arabia-high-court|
|↑12||This is clear from various government statements. Also see Peter Oborne’s account of a discussion with a Foreign Office official retold at a seminar at Greenbelt 2017 – foreign policy up for sale.|