If timing is the essence of comedy then David Cameron’s long-planned arms sales trip around the Gulf and the Middle East couldn’t have worked out better. But supplying butchers with the means to attack their populations is far from comic.
The disgusting nature of this sinister farce was further reinforced by his attendance at a ceremony in Kuwait, along with ex-Prime Minister John Major, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first Gulf War in which hundreds of thousands of innocents were killed by the most lethal weaponry of the advanced democracies.
At the same time as hundreds, perhaps thousands were being killed in Libya by weapons sold to Gaddafi under both Labour and Tory governments, Cameron, who briefly paused for a hastily arranged photo opportunity in Tahrir Square, along with eight executives from the defence and aerospace industries, hawked their deadly goods around to their gangster clientèle. In response to criticism Cameron, stretching words almost beyond comprehension, said that not to provide these Arab regimes with arms was “denying people their basic rights”, “racism” and undemocratic. The Gaddafi regime had been sold, amongst other things, up until very recently, sniper rifles, tear-gas grenades, crowd control weapons, small arms ammunition, stun grenades, anti-aircraft cannon, mortars, armoured personnel carriers, military aircraft, gun silencers, weapons sights, body armour and military aviation technology. These were all, in the words of the Foreign Office, “covered by assurances that they would not be used in human rights repression”.
The UK provided by far the largest pavilion at the last Libyan arms fair and last week, at the Abu Dhabi arms fair, 10% of all the global exhibitors were British. Minister Gerald Howarth, leading the delegation, declared: “We have ambitious plans”. At the same time, Labour’s defence spokesman, Jim Murphy, whose government undertook wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and several other ‘theatres’, trying to make a political point but showing the unity of the British bourgeoisie, said: “The UK has a responsibility beyond its borders and needs to support force”.
It was the Labour government that embraced and strengthened the Gaddafi regime and conducted arms sales to Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Israel, Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Egypt. And it was the Labour government that sat on any enquiry into BAE’s al-Yamanah Saudi arms deal citing “national interest”. Now that the LibDems have a taste of power they’ve slunk away from the moral high ground. Business Secretary Vince Cable is complicit in the deals and Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, apparently in charge of the country while Cameron was off flogging death and destruction, goes skiing while people protesting for basics, bystanders and children were being murdered by British-supplied arms.
The crimes and hypocrisy of these accomplices to massacres are limitless and Cameron has even proposed selling arms to the Libyan “rebels”, by whom he means the Libyan government in waiting, should Gaddafi fall. And while condemning the use by the regime of “excessive violence”, that is using the weapons it provided for that purpose, Britain has also fallen in behind the calls from the so-called ‘international community’ for sanctions and humanitarian assistance - which have been shown in the past to be weapons in the interests of the competing imperialisms implementing them.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox has called for “enhanced defence exports” with “the MoD ... at the forefront of the government export-led growth strategy” and the trade minister Lord Green (sitting next to Vince Cable) said that ministers would be “held accountable” if companies fail to secure deals. The only arms deal that has been blocked in the last couple of years has been the $65 million sale of helicopters, assault rifles, armoured cars and machine guns to the small African state of Swaziland. At the time the British government claimed that this was because these arms could be used for “possible internal repression”. But US embassy documents released by Wikileaks show that the Americans stopped it because of “end user concerns”, i.e., that the weapons were likely to end up in Iran. This didn’t stop the Campaign Against Arms Trade from welcoming the move as a refusal “to sell arms to a known human rights abuser” and this when British arms to war-torn Africa amounted to over a billion pounds in the last year.
Britain of course is not alone in this deadly trade, all major countries are involved and global arms sales have risen 60% since 2002 to total $400 billion (based on official figures) in 2009.
Britain’s BAE Systems was the second largest company involved in that period with its $33.25 billion just behind the USA’s Lockheed Martin. But it is Britain’s role in backing and arming the Gaddafi regime which is particularly nauseous in the present circumstances; feted by the Labour government, financiers, academics and the royal family, the Coalition government was about to continue the work of grooming Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as its place-man in the murderous regime.
Russia, among others, has also provided the regimes with weapons and France, in competition with the US and Britain in the Mediterranean, Maghreb and the Middle East has provided Gaddafi with anti-tank missiles, military telecommunications and maintenance for his Mirage fighter-bombers. The French ruling class has nothing to learn from Perfidious Albion. It has already sent two planeloads of so-called ‘humanitarian’ aid which the French Prime Minister says “will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of the liberated territories”.
It’s not just in supplying the weaponry to these murderous regimes that Britain profits economically and strategically. Various special forces supply training to the killers as an adjunct to the arms trade and, unsurprisingly, there’s absolutely no scruples here. One of the most notable achievements of the SAS was in training the cadres of Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge in the 1960s. More recently, we’ve seen the role of West Mercia and Humberside police officers in training associates of the death squads of the Bangladeshi government.
And, finally, it is worth recalling that the weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological, that Gaddafi was supposed to give up in return for his embrace by the ‘international community’ are still intact in the state’s bunkers and a possible threat to large numbers of people in the region.