Government licenses £300m worth of arms sales to countries that Foreign Office says violate human rights

Night vision: some of the equipment sanctioned to sell by the UK Government. Picture: US Navy
Night vision: some of the equipment sanctioned to be sold abroad by the UK Government. Picture: US Navy

British companies have been allowed to export arms and military hardware worth nearly £300m to countries that the Foreign Office has named as serial human rights violators this year.

China, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the FCO’s 27 “Countries of Concern” to which the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has sanctioned sales of weapons and other controlled goods.

As the world’s defence industry convenes today for the start of DSEI arms fair at the ExCel centre in London, BIS data, compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, shows the extent of the demand for, and potential British trade in, weapons and other defence products to repressive regimes.

The Government has approved licenses worth £10.2bn so far in 2013. Israel was by far the largest target buyer with £7.8bn of equipment that requires licenses to export.

The FCO lists Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories among its “Countries of Concern”, citing the situation in Gaza and what the FCO believes is Israeli obstruction of the peace process, as well as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority activity in Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s important to stress the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” part of that designation – the FCO says that human rights violations are happening on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, but BIS’s license data only covers Israel. But it seems extremely harsh to group Israel with countries such as North Korea, Syria and Saudi Arabia for human rights, which might explain BIS’s willingness to sanction arms to the country. Freedom House, for example, rates Israel as a “free” country (although Gaza and the West Bank are listed as “not free”).

For the full interactive graphic, click here

This chart drops Israel and focuses on the other 26 countries of concern. China becomes the biggest intended target of arms sales. BIS has approved licenses worth £222.7m to the one-party state so far this year. Another big contract is Russia, which is allied with Syria, a country that last month David Cameron unsuccessfully tried to drum up parliamentary support to bomb. BIS approved £9.4m of weapons and other goods to Pakistan, a country where US intelligence is particularly concerned that weapons may fall into the wrong hands.

The list of countries of concern that aren’t open for business to Britain’s arms manufacturers is a short, sad one. Just five of the 27 had no licenses approved for them at all – they are Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria and Fiji. Last year, with the Syrian civil war raging, BIS granted licenses to export chemicals to Syria that would have been able to be used to make nerve agents.

In this world map, you can see the countries of concern to which BIS has allowed sales in green, and the ones it hasn’t in purple:

For the full interactive map, click here

The map excludes many more countries to which Britain sells arms and about which the FCO has no serious human rights qualms. While much of Britain’s manufacturing base is gone, we are still a world leader at making the things that foreign armies and police forces say they need.

Get the data behind this post here.