The Gryphon asks: should Britain continue trading arms to Saudi Arabia?
Yes – Kane Emmerson
Saudi Arabia is the key power in the gulf and most importantly, an influential voice in a region that dominates Britain’s key foreign policy and security objectives. We’ve had a long-history with Saudi Arabia that has helped project Britain’s influence in the Middle-East. This is also important at home as Saudi Arabia plays an important role in counter-terrorism and helping to keep British citizens safe. It is vital that this history of good relations with Saudi Arabia is continued and business such as the arms trade between our two nations helps strengthen this relationship further. To damage our relationship with Saudi Arabia would be a move that requires delicate consideration over knee-jerk reactions, which at this time would be premature.
Although there has been speculation on Saudi Arabia’s activities in Yemen and whether these do violate international law, there is no hard evidence on which Britain could cut off arms sales. Although like most people I am doubtful of the sincerity of the assurances that Saudi Arabia has offered in light of their questionable bombing targets, it would not be helpful to anyone to immediately cease arms trading with Saudi Arabia without hard evidence.
Currently Britain provides Ministry of Defence support to Saudi forces in addition to our relationship in arms sales. From this position of influence and insight that we have with Saudi Arabia, it would be more productive in regards to upholding international law by ensuring that these standards are adhered to rather than cutting off military ties that would
only lead to less scrupulous nations working with Saudi Arabia.
Regardless, the question over the arms trade is an opportunity to question the role that the Britain plays in the Middle-East. There seems to be a popular view of non-action and for Britain to stay purely out of Middle-Eastern affairs. However, taking a proactive role in building up our relationships in the Middle-East at a tumultuous time can only benefit our ability to share our values in an area of the world that contains many “countries of concern” according to the Foreign Office. Yes, the British company BAE sells fighter jets to Saudi Arabia but that also means that BAE trains Saudi pilots – training them with the same ethical standards of the British military. We can’t just turn our back on an ally nor can we dictate when and how that ally protects itself. We can however work with our allies, strengthening our relationships to build a more secure world that enshrines the rights of our allies to protect themselves from aggressors.
No – Sophie Wheeler
The U.K government exporting arms to Saudi Arabia should be considered the highest form of hypocrisy. Britain, as one of the so-called leaders of human rights in the developing world, should not be supporting a country with a long history of alleged human rights abuses which now include accusations of the Saudi-led coalition using schools, hospitals and other civilian areas as military targets. There has been an estimated 8,100 civilian casualties so far in Yemen. By supporting Saudi Arabia those numbers are set to rise and we are not only ignoring our legal duty as a player on the international stage but also our moral duty as a nation committed to upholding human rights across the world.
In the past year, the U.K has exported £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Defenders of this deal may point to benefits in the economy and increased employment. However there has been, so far, no government study on the economic benefits of exporting arms to Saudi Arabia. This is likely because the evidence would not support the exaggerated claim that the deal would make a remarkable difference to our economy or employment for the vast majority of people. Even if this were to be the case the U.K government acknowledged in its 2005 Defence Industrial Strategy that economic benefits should not be used to justify arms exports. The price that the people of Yemen will have to pay because of this deal likely exceed any benefits we could possibly gain here in the U.K.
In January, a UN panel accused Saudi Arabia of breaking international humanitarian law during its assault on the country through targeting civilian areas. Chris White, who chaired the inquiry of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, agreed calling for the U.K to halt its trading with Saudi Arabia as “During this inquiry we have heard evidence from respected sources that weapons made in the UK have been used in contravention of International Humanitarian Law.”
Supporters of continuing trade with Saudi Arabia, such as the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, have pointed to an internal Saudi report which claims to have found no breach of international law through the investigation of eight incidents in Yemen. However, the finding of these investigations have not yet been verified by any independent organisations.
Even the British Foreign Office withdrew previous claims that the UK judged that no breaches of humanitarian law had occurred. Previous government statements from Mr Hammond, which had stated that the government “have assessed that there has not been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”, were later corrected to “we have not assessed that there has been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”.
Trading arms with Saudi Arabia will only serve to prolong the conflict and extend the suffering of civilians in Yemen. However, there is still hope for a peaceful resolution to this conflict through the most potent weapon ever used in warfare – negotiation.
(Image courtesy of the Independent)