Might the Arms Trade Treaty be useful in stopping the worst arms exports?

Two members of the Control Arms campaign – Amnesty International and Saferworld – are to be congratulated on commissioning an expert legal opinion to assess the lawfulness of the authorisation by the United Kingdom of weapons and related items for export to Saudi Arabia in the context of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen.

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Is the UK’s arms trade with Saudi Arabia a breach of the Arms Trade Treaty?

Is the UK Government now ignoring Arms Trade Treaty obligations by continuing to trade arms with repressive regimes?  This was the question asked by the Control Arms campaign on 16 January 2015.  They think the answer is yes, but unfortunately it appears to be no, as I will explain.

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Addressing some misconceptions about the Arms Trade Treaty

The Arms Trade Treaty came into force on 24 December 2014.  At the time of writing the Treaty has been signed by 131 states and ratified by 61.  I want to try and clear up some misconceptions about the Treaty that have been aired in the commentaries surrounding its the entry into force.

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Punishing corporate crime: Review of Brandon Garrett’s Too Big To Jail

Professor Garrett has written an important book about a topic – corporate crime – that may not be a top concern of the ordinary person, but is arguably as important a topic as the type of crime (those against the person) that ordinary people do care about.  For instance, in Britain fraud on its own costs the country an estimated £73 billion per year.

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A new and better way for British arms export licensing: presumption of denial

The British export licensing system depends on a “risk assessment” officials make at the time an export licence decision is made.  It is totally ill-fitted to how the world actually works, chiefly because weapons and weapon systems have a shelf-life far longer than the validity of the official risk assessment.

So what would a new and better way look like?

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Review of Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha

Professor Karen Dawisha’s new book Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who owns Russia? promised much.  According to the blurb on the jacket it “describes Putin’s rapid rise to power, the cabal he brought with him, the oligarchs they have created, the billions they have looted…she reveals a deeply corrupt country ruled by a thieving regime”.  Further, Cambridge University Press “declined to publish it for fear of running afoul of libel laws in the U.K.” (p.351) and indeed the current publisher, Simon & Schuster, has only published it in the US.  But in the age of the internet, it can easily be acquired by anyone in the UK.

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Why Britain should not join American and French airstrikes against ISIS

The American President Barack Obama has announced he intends to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL”, including “a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists”. The French have now announced they will join the airstrikes too.

So far the British Government has not said whether or not it will join in.  But David Cameron is bound to come under such pressure now the French and Americans have decided to launch an air campaign, especially as leading backbenchers such as former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox have called for Britain to launch military action.

So is this a good idea?  Should Britain join in?

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The Gaza conflict and British arms exports: a case study in lamentable decision-making

Just over two weeks ago, I questioned whether there was a review of British arms export licences for Israel, in the wake of the recent conflict in Gaza. About one week ago the British Government announced the findings of its review of licensed exports to Israel. It sets out the lamentable Ministerial decision-making around export licences for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even by the standards that the Government sets itself.

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Interview with journalist and author Mark Metcalf

You can read a recent interview I gave to journalist and author Mark Metcalf.

Interview in the Daily Record

The Daily Record has published an interview with me about the arms trade. (By the way I would not claim to be an “industry expert”.)

Is there a review of British arms export licences for Israel?

The current conflict in Gaza is resulting in grievous loss of civilian life. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and around 1,800 Palestinians.  Atrocities have been committed against civilians, almost all by the Israeli Defence Forces (as follows from the above figures), including well-publicised ones condemned by the US Government and UN Secretary-General.

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Talk at Transparency International

I was pleased to give a talk at Transparency International this lunchtime. Below are some of the key points I made:

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New document published: Saudi Arabian Air Defence Assistance Project Memorandum of Understanding

As I have explained in previous posts on this blog (see here and here) there has been no effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the Ministry of Defence’s Government-to-Government arms deals with Saudi Arabia. These deals have now been the subject of two Serious Fraud Office investigations, one still on-going.

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New documents published: How a Saudi Prince sued a British arms company for his commission

Britain’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has enjoyed an uninterrupted and lucrative commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defence and Aviation for half a century. In the deal which started the relationship (agreed in 1965), BAE’s predecessor, the British Aircraft Corporation, was one of three British prime contractors, along with Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) and Airwork. Since 1973, BAE has been the sole prime contractor.

Published on this website for the first time today are British Government documents, disclosed following my Information Tribunal victory[1], which describe how Prince Abdul Rahman sued AEI for his commission in the High Court. Here you can read the Prince’s version of events, as set out by his lawyers.

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New documents published: British Government discussions about involvement in corruption in Saudi arms deals

A recent article in the Financial Times (republished by Gulf News here) states that the Serious Fraud Office has made arrests during its on-going investigation of the Airbus Group subsidiary GPT Special Project Management Limited. The company is the prime contractor on the Saudi Arabian National Guard Communications (SANGCOM) project, a Government-to-Government arms deal supervised by the British Ministry of Defence.

One claim in the article that caught my eye was that two Ministry of Defence officials had been questioned by the Serious Fraud Office.

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Interview in New Internationalist

New Internationalist magazine has published an interview with me by Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The Ministry of Defence, the Saudi Arabian National Guard Communications project, and a Lebanese agent

In a recent article on the Exaro News website David Pallister and Frederika Whitehead write about the part of my book which describes the proposed arrangements for agency fees behind one of Britain’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia.   This deal, known as the Saudi Arabian National Guard Communications project, or SANGCOM for short, has been in the news recently because it is the subject of an on-going investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, following allegations which have been reported by Private Eye, Exaro, and the Financial Times.

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The fundamental flaw in Britain’s arms export policy

The events of the “Arab Spring” have resulted in a great deal of scrutiny of the British Government’s export licensing procedures. Parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls have recommended in their most recent report that:

the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes “which might be used to facilitate internal repression” in contravention of the Government’s policy (paragraph 124 of Volume 1)

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Event at Edinburgh Book Fringe 2014

I am delighted to announce I will be speaking at the Edinburgh Book Fringe on Saturday 16 August 2014, courtesy of Word Power Books.   For more details click here.

Will the Arms Trade Treaty be much help in combating corruption in the international arms trade?

A great deal of effort from Governments and Non-Governmental Organisations went into negotiating the Arms Trade Treaty, concluded in New York in 2013. I am sceptical whether the Treaty, if it comes into force (for this to happen 18 states still need to ratify it) will be effective. I very much hope my scepticism will be unfounded.

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Improving Britain’s ability to convict those paying bribes in arms deals

In the past the authorities in the United States have been much more successful in prosecuting foreign bribery by their companies than the authorities in Britain.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s latest report on steps taken to implement and enforce the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in the United Kingdom is far more scanty than that for the United States (even after allowing for the fact the economy of the United States is much bigger than the UK’s).  Further, since the Bribery Act 2010 came into force in the UK almost three years ago, there has been no conviction of anyone for foreign bribery under the Act. And last year, in 2013, there was only one conviction of someone for foreign bribery under the previous legislation. So how can the UK improve its record, and what should those wishing to see this happen do?

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The Ministry of Defence and detecting bribery in Saudi arms deals

Two of the biggest UK arms deals with Saudi Arabia have been investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.  The investigation into Al Yamamah (now known as the Saudi British Defence Co-Operation Programme) ended in 2006.  The investigation into the SANGCOM project is on-going.

The US investigation into Al Yamamah resulted in the conviction of the prime contractor (BAE Systems) for dubious conduct in that and other arms deals.  In particular, “the actions of BAE Systems impeded U.S. efforts to ensure international trade is free of corruption”.  In the UK, the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation was curtailed after heavy pressure from the Saudi Arabian Government and British establishment.

This left some mysteries unresolved – what did the UK’s Ministry of Defence know about the questionable practices that went on during the Al Yamamah deal?  What, if anything, did officials do about it?  But, much more importantly, what has the Ministry of Defence done since to prevent a recurrence?

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Parliamentary “scrutiny” of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

In November 2013 Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published its report into the UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  Select Committees are supposed to scrutinise Government policy on behalf of the electorate.  Let’s see what they had to say about the issue of corruption in the UK’s arms deals with Saudi Arabia:

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How serious is the UK about taking action against foreign bribery?

At the end of March the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published its latest report on steps taken to implement and enforce the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in the United Kingdom.

This report shows the jury is still out on seriousness of the UK’s commitment to act against foreign bribery by UK companies or nationals. So far, since the Bribery Act 2010 came into force almost three years ago, there has been no conviction of anyone for foreign bribery under the Act. And last year, in 2013, there was only one conviction of someone for foreign bribery under the previous legislation (down from three in 2012).

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