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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 27, June 1998

UK Government Responds to NGO Arms Sales Criticism

On 24 June, the British Non-Governmental-Organisation Saferworld released a report showing that the Labour Government elected in May 1997 has already approved over 2,000 licenses for exports of arms, including many to countries with human rights records widely regarded as disreputable, and/or to States in regions of ongoing or potential conflict. The report - Policy and Practice: UK Arms Exports from 1 May 1997 to 10 May 1998 - concluded that many licenses were granted in breach of the Government's own criteria and its much-vaunted proclamation of an 'ethical foreign policy'. According to Saferworld, exports to Algeria and China were licensed despite a European Union (EU) embargo.

On the day of the report's release, the Foreign Office issued the following rebuttal:

"Under the new criteria announced by the Government in July 1997, every application to export arms is considered on a case-by-vase basis against the same tough set of tests. In particular, where there is a clearly identifiable risk of the equipment being used for repression, applications are refused. Since the new criteria were adopted, a number of licences have been refused which would have been approved under the previous guidelines. Contrary to suggestions in the press, no licences have been granted in breach of any international arms embargoes.

It was never the Government's intention to create new national arms embargoes against individual destinations, but rather to ensure that every application should be individually scrutinised against the same tough criteria. The Government believes that this is the most responsible approach to arms export licensing.

The Government recognises that the categories in the Military List are broad and that wrong conclusions can be drawn about the details of licences which have been granted. That is why it is committed to publishing an open and transparent Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls to allow public scrutiny of the application of its export licensing policy. The report will make clear what military equipment has been licensed for export on a country-by-country basis."

Reports: Ethical arms policy in disarray, The Guardian, 24 June; Arms Exports, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 24 June.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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