States that increase Yemeni’s affliction: (part...
For more than four years, a brutal Saudi air campaign has bombarded Yemen, killing tens of thousands, injuring hundreds of thousands and displacing millions – creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And British weapons are doing much of the killing. Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.
The Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, has “targeted civilians … in a widespread and systematic manner”, according to the UN – dropping bombs on hospitals, schools, weddings, funerals and even camps for displaced people fleeing the bombing.
Saudi Arabia has in effect contracted out vital parts of its war against Yemen’s Houthi movement to the US and the UK. Britain does not merely supply weapons for this war: it provides the personnel and expertise required to keep the war going. The British government has deployed RAF personnel to work as engineers, and to train Saudi pilots and targeteers – while an even larger role is played by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, which the government has subcontracted to provide weapons, maintenance and engineers inside Saudi Arabia.
Once these weapons arrive in Saudi Arabia, Britain’s involvement is far from over. The Saudi military lacks the expertise to use these weapons to fight a sustained air war – so BAE, under another contract to the UK government, provides what are known as “in-country” services. In practice, this means that around 6,300 British contractors are stationed at forward operating bases in Saudi Arabia. There, they train Saudi pilots and conduct essential maintenance night and day on planes worn out from flying thousands of miles across the Saudi desert to their targets in Yemen. They also supervise Saudi soldiers to load bombs on to planes and set their fuses for their intended targets.
British defence exports rose to a record £14bn in 2018, with sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and other countries in the Middle East accounting for nearly 80% of that figure, official figures reveal. According to the media outlet, the total figure of UK arms sales could be much higher because the UK government sold the arms to the coalition through a type of open license that allows an uncapped number of items to be sent to the receiving country over five years.
Campaigners said the statistics showed that Britain was “arming and supporting repressive regimes”, while the Department for International Trade (DIT) said they demonstrated that the UK had returned to its position as the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US.
Defence orders rose by £5bn to £14bn, making it the biggest year since records began in 1983. That increase was helped by a £5bn order for Typhoon fighters made by BAE Systems, plus Paveway missiles from Raytheon that are partly made in the UK.
Campaign Against Arms Trade said the figures “exposed the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The government claims to stand for human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting repressive regimes and dictatorships around the world.”
Britain’s sales to Saudi Arabia – believed to be the largest arms buyer – are the subject of an ongoing legal battle. Ministers have asked the supreme court to overturn a lower court’s judgment that some of the arms sales to Riyadh were conducted illegally.
In June 2019, the court of appeal concluded the sales of arms that could have been used by Saudi Arabia’s air force in Yemen were unlawful because ministers had failed to examine whether, in targeting civilians, the country was in breach of international humanitarian law.
The DIT estimates the UK’s share of the defence export industry to be about 19%, placing it second for the first time since 2014, pushing Russia into third place and sitting comfortably ahead of fourth-ranked France. The world leader is the US, which has a share of about 40%, according to the British estimates in the annual statistics published by the DIT, which is the licensing authority for arms exports.