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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

UK Parliament Report Criticizes Arms Sales Policy

On 4 August, the British House of Commons' Select Committee on International Development released a wide ranging report, Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Reconstruction, which included a number of significant recommendations for the revision of UK arms exports policy. In its Executive Summary, the Committee sets out its case as follows:

"The Committee concludes that the determined and principled export of arms exports is a litmus test of this Government's concern to prevent conflict and inject an ethical dimension into foreign policy.

The lack of proportion between the expenditure of developing countries on arms and their expenditure on social sectors is a scandal, and one in which many arms-exporting countries are implicated. ...

The Committee:

  • calls for more work to be done both within Whitehall and internationally to agree shared assessments of the security needs of developing countries;
  • congratulates the Secretary of State [Clare Short] for her openness in providing information on those export license applications which DFID [Department for International Development] has questioned and considers this an important precedent for Government transparency in arms export policy and practice;
  • criticises the Department for Trade and Industry [DTI] for failing to apply the human rights and conflict concerns which are at the heart of development policy, for example approving the export of arms to Eritrea and Indonesia despite the protests of DFID;
  • calls for legislation to control the activities of arms brokers;
  • recommends that EU [European Union] member-States agree a common system of end-use controls to end illegal transfers and the selling-on of arms to third countries and other groups. ...;
  • notes that the proliferation of small arms is a significant cause of conflict and facilitates the increasing use of child soldiers. The Committee recommends initiatives in the EU and the Council of Europe to control small arms stockpiles, and support for properly controlled buy-back programmes in developing countries."

The report also voiced criticism of the Defence Export Services Organization (DESO) - which, the Committee noted acerbically, had more staff working in Indonesia than the entire Foreign & Commonwealth Office's arms control research unit. Of more fundamental concern was the criteria by which DESO pursued contracts; correspondingly, one of the report's recommendations was "that the Government state in their response [to this report] how the activities are compatible with stated policy on conflict prevention and arms control."

Reports: Conflict Prevention and Post-Conflict Resolution, The Sixth Report of the UK House of Commons Select Committee on International Development, 28 July 1999 (full text available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmintdev/55/5502.htm; British MPs criticize Government on arms sales, Reuters, 5 August.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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