Prime Minister David Cameron became the first world leader to visit Egypt since the revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. As Egypt attempts to normalize relations with many states it is important that world leaders remain engaged with Egypt.
The fact that defence firms accompanied the Prime Minister on his four-day visit to the region appears insensitive in as much as British and Western weapons have been used against protesters in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia. Undeniable, the U.K. and other Western nations have the legitimate right to sell arms abroad. Arms sales constitute a multi-billion dollar business for many nations. From 2002 to 2009 the U.S. had sales of $166 billions, Russia $73 billion, France $35 billion and the U.K. $29 billion in sales. The controversy is that British defence firms accompanied the Prime Minister on his regional Mideast visit on the heals of the Egyptian revolution. Among the top defence, security and aerospace firms were representatives from BAE Systems and Rolls Royce.
At the same time, Britain’s Defence Minister Gerald Howarth was promoting British defence firms at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), in the UAE, the regions largest arms expo. IDEX promotes itself as “The International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) is the largest defence and security event in the Middle East and North African region.”
Besides the U.K., France, the United States, Brazil, China, Turkey, the Ukraine, Austria and Switzerland also had pavilions at the expo. Among the items being sold by various defence firms were fighter jets, attack helicopters, body armor for troops and riot police, and small arms like sniper rifles and assault weapons. One deal announced at IDEX worth $272 million, the United Arab Emirates would purchase converter kits for 23 of its Sikorsky Black Hawks to convert them to gunships.
Promoting British defence firms while several states in the Middle East are undergoing significant and in the case of Libya, violent transformations illustrates that despite the fact that Western leaders are admonishing oppressive regimes for their tactics their actions belie their words. Incidentally, even after David Cameron’s Conservative Party won last year’s election, the U.K. was selling Libya equipment that is typically used to squelch riots and demonstrations.
To avoid a public relations nightmare, the U.K. revoked several export licenses to the Libyan government. The U.K. agency, Export Control Organisation, within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which controls export licenses describes these licenses as “Any item exported from the UK that is subject to export control needs a licence. The Export Control Organisation is responsible for assessing and issuing (or refusing) export licences for a wide range of controlled so called ‘strategic’ goods. This includes military and dual-use items.”
The Prime Minister defended his nation’s decision to export arms to Kuwait and others Middle East and Arab states on the heals of revolutions in the region. The Prime Minister was in Kuwait marking the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War. In arguing in favor of continuing to export arms to states facing an uncertain future, the Prime Minister said, “The idea that we should expect small and democratic countries like Kuwait to be able to manufacture all their means of defence seems to me completely at odds with reality.”
Addressing the fact that the U.K. revoked a number of export licenses to Libya and yet the government has been able to purchase British arms and armaments as recently as last year David Cameron said, “When Britain does take part in the defence trade we do so with probably the tightest set of export licences and rules almost anywhere in the world. It is obviously a difficult process to get right on every occasion. But we do have very, very tough controls, and very clear controls.”
Expos offer the opportunity for defence firms from many countries to sell directly resulting in multi-million dollar business deals. When government officials from the U.K., the United States, Jordan and other nations appear at these shows it is either in the capacity to represent these firms or make purchases on their nation’s behalf. Besides Britain’s Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, Adm. Mike Mullen was in attendance and the brother of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
U.S. arm deals announced by the Department of Defense in 2010 were worth $103 billion. A number of the more significant purchases were 150 of Raytheon’s AMRAAM missiles purchased by Switzerland, 60 of Boeing’s AH-64D Apache attack helicopters purchased by the UAE, 12 of Sikorsky’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopters purchased by Denmark, 84 of Boeing’s F-15 Strike Eagle jets purchased by Saudi Arabia, 18 of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon jets by Iraq, a large number of Raytheon’s GEM-T Missiles purchased by Kuwait, India purchased 10 C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes by Boeing and to China’s dismay, Taiwan is purchasing the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
These arms sales will have to be approved by the U.S. Congress but unless revolutions foment in those states it is doubtful the deals will be scrapped.
IDEX occurring at the same time revolutions are beginning, ongoing or concluding in neighboring and regional states has not gone unnoticed by those in attendance. A company representative of Brazil’s Condor commented when asked about the regional unrest, “I can talk to you about soccer, Rio De Janeiro or carnival…But not this.” Condor was at IDEX selling tear-gas grenades and rubber bullets which are popular when suppressing an uprising. Arms sales to a variety of regimes and governments in developing and developed nations occur with frequency and while Western nations are reluctant to admit it their wares are used against their citizens.
During the 2010 Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) outside of London, Rosoboronexport, the Russian state owned airplane maker signed a deal with Libya to sell it several Yak-130 fighter jets. Private or state owned defence firms make a practice of basing their earnings on selling arms to many governments, totalitarian and democratic, around the globe. It was the timing and mission of David Cameron’s trip with several British firms that drew attention and focused attention on the problem of arming states that use these weapons against their publics.
Western governments will have to give serious consideration to the continued practice of exporting arms to autocratic nations that could dissolve into chaos and their citizens revolt. The U.S. watched in alarm as the chemical weapons it sold to Saddam Hussein were used to kill enemies of his regime. Now the world is viewing regimes that are suppressing popular uprisings with the help of Western arms and armaments.
While the whole practice of exporting arms to states will continue it is important to illustrate that most of the weapons are used for external security. Taiwan’s purchase of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System only has external application and similarly the sale of two Mistral class amphibious French warships to Russia only has external ramifications.