Economic and moral benefit gained if UK government stops courting wealthy authoritarian rulers – Ann Feltham
Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph and others reported that David Cameron had agreed to “strengthen co-operation” with Saudi Arabia despite concerns about the country’s human rights record and criticism of British arms sales.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah meets David Cameron in Riyadh
Ann Feltham, Parliamentary Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade, wrote in the FT yesterday addressing a correspondent who vehemently recommended UK parliamentarians to avoid criticising Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – the UK’s “real friends” in the Middle East – who have purchased vast quantities of military equipment.
She reminds readers that – as well as being morally repugnant – such an approach can lead to problems in the longer term, “as the consequences of arming the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammer Gaddafi clearly show.” She continues:
“The letter also cites the number of jobs in the UK sustained by the military contracts, but, as your international economics editor Alan Beattie has pointed out: “You can have as many arms export jobs as you are prepared to waste public money subsidising.” (“Promoting exports is full of risk for the world economy”, August 10 2010.)
“Research and development funding, export credit insurance and a government arms export promotion unit with nearly 150 staff – all these and more are paid for by the taxpayer, though the beneficiaries are BAE Systems and the other arms companies.
“Successive UK governments have made a choice to focus support on military industry, but despite the subsidies, it is declining.
“It also employs a lot of workers, such as engineers, whose skills are in short supply. If, for example, the government support was transferred to the growing renewable energy sector it should bring economic benefit to the UK. It could also help provide energy security without the current reliance on authoritarian regimes, and remove any motivation for intervention to protect oil supplies.”
Ann Feltham concludes that if the UK government were to stop courting the authoritarian rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE as potential arms purchasers, and condemned their human rights abuses, the benefits would be both economic and moral.