UK is ‘arming world’s most corrupt nations’

Blood money: Britain has sold weapons to 36 out of the 49 countries classified as “not free”.

Should Britain quit the arms trade? Countries around the world are fighting wars using British bombs, warplanes, and guns. And the old arguments in defence of arms sales are faltering.

On October 8th 2016, Saudi Arabian forces mistook a funeral in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, for an enemy base. Saudi pilots bombed the funeral, killing 140 innocent civilians. In 1978 Indonesian pilots launched an airstrike on Arsaibai, a small village in East Timor. The village’s entire population was wiped out.

What do these two dreadful events have in common? Both slaughters were probably carried out with British-made weapons.

Britain is the second biggest arms dealer in the world. Today, buyers from some of the most corrupt countries are in London for the first day of a huge arms fair. More than 100 protesters were arrested yesterday for disrupting the event, many claiming that weapons on sale inside will be used to commit war crimes.

Meanwhile yesterday, diplomats gathered in Geneva for a meeting of the Arms Trade Treaty, an organisation that tries to stop countries selling weapons to corrupt nations.

The number of weapons Britain has sold to oppressive regimes has soared. Since the 2015 election, Britain sold £5 billion worth of arms, compared to £840 million in the two years before the election.

Its biggest buyer is Saudi Arabia, which spent £3.75 billion on fighter jets, bombs, and missiles. It is using these weapons on Yemeni civilians in a bloody civil war. Over 10,000 people have been killed.

Britain is also seeking new customers. Sales to other controversial nations have nearly doubled since 2015, rising from £680 million to £1.2 billion. One such customer is Egypt. Britain supplied the government with guns, despite Egyptian authorities killing, torturing, and injuring thousands of its own civilians.

Elsewhere there are signs of a change of heart. Heckler & Kock, a German gun company, whose weapons have killed an estimated two million people, recently decided to stop selling weapons to corrupt countries and those involved in wars. This includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey – all nations that Britain continues to sell weapons to.

Arms race

“The arms trade puts profit before human rights,” say some. Selling weapons to a corrupt country equals supporting that country. It is hypocritical of Britain to condemn violence and continue to profit from the sale of weapons. Britain should stop selling arms immediately.

“Weapons make the world safer,” others argue. What is more, defence no longer just means warships and combat aircraft. In the modern world of asymmetric threats, it is about sophisticated surveillance systems, counter-terrorism and next-generation communications systems – many of which have benefits at home as well as on the battlefield.

You Decide

  1. Would the world be better off without weapons?
  2. Are weapons mainly for defence or attack?


  1. List five reasons why you think a country might go to war.
  2. Research what other countries the UK also sell arms to. Try and work out which continent has been sold the most weapons. Why do you think this is?

Some People Say...

“The true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms but in mutual trust alone.”

Pope John XXIII

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that in 2013 the UK signed a UN treaty stating that it would not sell weapons to states in which there was a risk of human rights abuses. We know that there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia is using military equipment supplied by the UK. We know that cluster bombs supplied by the UK have been dropped on Yemen.
What do we not know?
In Yemen, we cannot say with certainty which British weapons have been used in which attacks. We also do not know if the UK will continue to sell arms at the current rate. We do not know how many people have been killed in the world by British weapons since the 2015 election.

Word Watch

Middle East country bordering Saudi Arabia to the south; embroiled in civil war since 2015.
East Timor
Indonesia occupied the South-East Asia country 1975-1999 and has since been accused of genocide against Timorese civilians during the occupation.
Second biggest
Based on arms sales 2006-2016. UK government statistics gathered by Department for International Trade Defence and Security Organisation (DIT DSO). Only the USA sold more weapons.
Freedom House (a US-based non-governmental organisation founded in 1941 for research and advocacy on democracy) uses a scoring system to determine how corrupt a nation is. A country is “not free” if it scores below a set rating in a range of categories which includes “freedom of expression” and “political participation”.
Fighter jets
BAE Systems, a British company, sold Saudi Arabia 72 Typhoon jets for over £4 billion.
Hosni Mubarak resigned as leader following huge protests during the Arab Spring in 2011. The country has been in a state of political uncertainty ever since and is currently ruled by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

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