UK Govt Allows Arms Sales to Russia And Others Through Open Licenses – CAEC Report

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Econ 101, Sanctions on Russia Meaningless, War Is The New Economy

SEE ALSO:  The U.S. Gives Russia Free Military Equipment

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Government accused of allowing arms manufacturers to export in secret


Parliamentary watchdog on arms sales strongly criticises policy change

The Government is today accused by MPs of attempting to mask the scale of Britain’s arms trade by actively encouraging manufacturers to sell weaponry under an opaque procedure which keeps the value of exports out of the public domain.

Under a little-noticed shift in Britain’s policy governing sales of weapons and other sensitive equipment, exporters are being asked to seek “open” licences which allow multiple consignments to be sent to the same destinations abroad without the value of the goods being publicly declared.

The Parliamentary watchdog on arms sales strongly criticised the move, saying it will “inescapably reduce the transparency” of Britain’s arms exports and increase the risk that rules to halt inappropriate sales will be broken.

The annual report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) reveals that the UK sold arms more than £5bn to countries on the Government’s own human rights black list and questions whether ministers are imposing adequate controls on weapons being sent to authoritarian regimes.

The Export Control Organisation (ECO), the Government agency which oversees the sale of military and “dual-use” goods abroad, recently admitted that it is encouraging exporters “where possible” to shift away from Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs), which approve a single consignment of controlled goods to be sent abroad within a two-year limit.

The Export Control Organisation admitted encouraging exporters to shift away from Standard Individual Export Licences (Getty Images)

The Export Control Organisation admitted encouraging exporters to shift away from Standard Individual Export Licences (Getty Images)

Instead, officials want companies to apply for Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs), which allow an uncapped number of consignments to named destinations over a five-year period without an obligation to immediately specify the “end user”.

While the value of SIELs is made public, the value of OEILs are not declared because their open-ended nature means their value cannot be calculated at the outset.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which oversees the ECO, said its expects its policy to apply to “less sensitive goods” and all licences will continue to be judged against criteria designed to prevent inappropriate exports.

But figures obtained by The Independent show that the number of OEILs issued has increased in the last five years, reaching a peak of 2,001 in 2011, compared to 883 in 2009.

MPs said their concern about a growth in OEILs was deepened by figures which showed the Government has had to revoke or modify 99 of the licences since the start of the “Arab Spring” revolts in 2010 to destinations including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya as well as Russia since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine.

Among the revocations were licences for missile technology to Russia and tear gas and CS grenades to Bahrain.

The report said the policy to encourage OIELs was “likely to increase the risk of breaches of the Government’s own arms export control policies” and a reduction in the ability of Parliament and the public to scrutinise the scale of exports of weaponry.Sir John Stanley, the chairman of CAEC, said: “There will certainly be a significant loss of transparency from the switching policy given that the Government discloses the value of SIELs but not of OIELs.”

In an effort to improve accountability, the MPs called on ministers to disclose for the first time the value of arms which actually leave Britain under OIELs every quarter.

Campaigners said the MPs’ findings added to existing concerns that exports under OIELs were going unmonitored, especially to countries with ongoing human rights concerns including Thailand, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Andrew Smith, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “There is already a lack of transparency in the arms trade, and the growing use of OIELs is only making this worse. They allow arms companies and governments to sell even more weapons without having to make it public when they are doing so.”

The MPs said that their findings concerning exports to countries with poor human rights records, including Bahrain and five others which do not feature on the Government’s own black list, meant that Britain needed to be far stricter with its approvals and should now take the step of naming the “end user” – whether a state body or a private company – for all arms exports.

The Government said it would respond to the MPs’ report in due course. A spokesman said: “We rigorously examine every licence application on a case-by-case basis against internationally recognised criteria. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment and we do not grant licences where there is a clear risk that it might be used for internal repression.”

Licences to kill: UK arms exports

Britain cleared the export of weaponry including parts for combat jets, tanks and targeting equipment to Israel at the height of its assault on Gaza last summer, a Parliamentary report reveals.

Details of 12 export licences show that the licences were worth more than £600,000. They included £330,000 of components for tanks sent to Israel via Germany and £95,000 of combat aircraft components dispatched via America.

MPs called on the Government to declare whether it believed the technology in the licences may have been used in “the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law” in Gaza.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is reviewing the 12 licences.



Export licences approved for Russia – supporting data

FOI release

Published 9 April 2014
Download CSV 73.3KB



Britain Sells £86m Of Arms To Russia And Still Has 271 Export Licences, Despite Crimea Crisis

Britain has sold more than £86m of sniper rifles, ammunition, drones and laser technology to Russia in just over a year, it can be revealed.

There are 271 arms export licences given for arms sales, air vehicles, military helicopters, and spy equipment to Russia that remain active, despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Between 2008-2013 UK licensed over £406 million in military and dual use licences to Russia, according to official Whitehall documents.

The ongoing licences would appear to be a breach of the government’s own rules, with Foreign Secretary William Hague telling the House of Commons’ Committees on Arms Export Controls last year that “the British Government will not issue licences where we judge there is a clear risk the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

russia army

Armed men in military fatigues, believed to be Russian soldiers, seen near Simferopol, Crimea

Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “This is another example of the shortcomings of a UK foreign policy that all too often promotes the profits of arms companies ahead of human rights.

“The UK should be using its political influence to promote peace, not arms sales.”

“The UK government needs to urgently explain it’s arms sales to Russia and demonstrate what steps it has taken to ensure no UK supplied equipment is being used in the current Crimea crisis,” Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s director of military security and police told HuffPost UK.

“Without urgent explanation of who these arms were destined for and how they were going to be used, these figures seem to suggest we have been supplying exactly the kind of weaponry that risks being used to escalate the current military crisis in the region, with all the likely catastrophic consequences that such armed violence will inevitably bring.”

The chairman of the government’s own committee, Sir John Stanley, has previously said questions needed to be ask whether licences to China, Sri Lanka, Iran and, crucially, Russia, had been sufficiently scrutinised.

Deals with Russia account for £3m worth of ammunition, £86,000 of drones, and £22m on intelligence equipment, used to encrypt sensitive data.

An FCO spokesman has told the Sun that the Government is “urgently reviewing arms export licences for Russia and will make a decision in consultation with our allies.”

The UK also has £24m worth of UK licences for military equipment to the Ukraine issued between 2008 and 2013, £4m in the last year.

Combined, EU nations licensed almost €200 million in military sales to Russia and €37 million to Ukraine.

France is currently negotiating a €1 billion deal for two Mistral-class ships to be delivered to the Russian navy, Labour MP Gisela Stuart told the House of Commons last night.

In that debate, after Hague gave a statement to the house promising “all diplomatic options” were still on the table with regards to Russia, MPs urged the government to take a more robust line with regard to economic measures against Putin, who was called a “a KGB thug” and “bully” by MPs in the chamber.

“Is it not incumbent on us—the European Union as a whole—to stand up, united and calm but extremely robust, lest Crimea become a 21st-century Abyssinia or Sudetenland?” asked Labour shadow minister Chris Bryant, referring to the Nazi invasions of both regions prior to World War Two.

Earlier this week a secret document, photographed as a an official carried it into a meeting at Downing Street, said “the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.

Yesterday, Hague said that the document was not the official position, and added that “no one official document carried into a meeting is necessarily representative of the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty’s Government or by Ministers,” and that “no measure proposed by any of our allies has so far been blocked by the United Kingdom.”

Asked whether the government could consider freezing assets of wealthy Russian individuals banking in London, Hague said that if the government “were to apply sanctions to individuals, we must be very sure of our case legally and have the evidence to sustain cases through court proceedings.”



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