Rowena Squires

Naked Politics Blogger 


The United Kingdom is the second highest arms dealer in the world. Out of the 30 countries on the UK Human Rights watch list, the UK currently sells arms to 22 of them. One of these countries is Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) recently went to court, claiming that by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, who are currently bombing civilians in Yemen, the UK Government has violated humanitarian law. However, the High Court, which had access to evidence which remains secret for national security, has deemed the UK’s actions as lawful. So, the UK’s arms trade with Saudi Arabia may have been deemed legal- but is it morally right?

The problems of selling arms to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a country with a history of human rights violations, from sentencing Raif Badawi to 1000 lashes for his online criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s clerics, to the mass execution of 47 people in January 2016. It is clear that the abuse of human rights is an ongoing and current issue in Saudi Arabia. Recently 6 people have been executed to bring this year’s execution number to 44. However, Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations are not restricted to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as evident by the bombing of Yemeni civilians by the Saudi regime.

So what is actually happening in Yemen?

The situation in Yemen is a complicated one. Basically, following the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen’s authoritarian President Saleh was ousted and replaced by his deputy Mr Hadi. Yemen at this time was extremely unstable, and the Houthi Movement (a Shia Muslim based group) took advantage of the situation, seizing control in the North and gaining support from other Yemenis (including Sunni Muslims) who were disillusioned with the Government. After the rebels marched on the capital in September 2014, President Hadi fled Yemen in March 2015. It was at this point, that Saudi Arabia intervened. Fearing the rise of a Shia group, believed to be backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began air strikes, which continue today, with the aim of restoring Hadi’s Government.


Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen

According to human rights groups there is evidence that civilians and their resources have been deliberately targeted by Saudi Arabia, which includes the bombings of hospitals and food factories. The UN has reported that more than 4,600 civilians have been killed and over 8,000 injured in the conflict to date, with Saudi airstrikes the main cause of casualties. This has led to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, with millions without access to safe water and many more millions facing starvation as famine sweeps across the country. Additionally, the current conflict has resulted in the displacement of 2 million people; so a refugee crisis is at hand and the UK Government has contributed to this current situation.

Where does the UK come into this?

Whilst the UK provides Yemen with millions in humanitarian aid, the UK makes ten times more money in arms sales compared to aid it provides. Additionally, British manufactured explosives were found to have been used by Saudi Arabia in northern Yemen last May, so British humanitarian aid is effectively being used to rebuild what British arms destroy. Despite this and UK regulations prohibiting the exportation of arms if there is a clear risk the equipment will be used to break international humanitarian law, the arms trade with Saudi Arabia continues.

Why the UK’s arms trade continues with Saudi Arabia?

Having a close relationship with Saudi Arabia is in the interest of the UK’s national security. David Cameron argued as did Amber Rudd that the arms trade helps build a strong economy, which enhances national security. However, despite, generating £4.2billion since 2015, this doesn’t justify the devastation the arms trade enables. Furthermore, Cameron was referring to the sharing of security information between intelligence services to help uncover potential terrorist threats forming in the Middle East. But, by supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, Britain is contributing to the instability in Yemen which has enabled the emergence of Islamic State there and AQAP (considered the most threatening branch of al-Qaeda) to take advantage of the chaos, both of which potentially threaten the UK’s future security.

Ultimately, the UK’s arm trade with Saudi Arabia is contributing to a humanitarian crisis, people have lost their homes, people are starving and people are dying. The UK must consider suspending its arms trade with Saudi Arabia; it may have been ruled lawful, but it is also undeniably immoral. In the words of the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas; ‘we can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but we can stop contributing to them’.

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Last Update: April 22, 2018