Weapons laws can be a strange thing in the UK. The UK government heavily restricts what guns and in what capacity those guns can be obtained by their citizens, but they also are one of the leading weapons exporters in the world. While all governments have militaries and deal in weapons, the details of the situation make it a bit tricky.
The UK does have one of the most robust weapons industries in the world. In fact, they are #2 in the rankings, sandwiched between the US at #1 and Russia at #3. They have also been growing recently. 2018 was their best year in decades with roughly 14 billion dollars worth of contracts signed. They take up around 19% of the global market which is not an insignificant percentage of the country’s GDP.
Who Are They Trading With?
Arms dealing is not an inherently bad thing. It is probably safe to assume that many of our readers are aware the importance and benefits of firearms for both civilians and militaries. The issue with the UK comes in when you consider who arms are being sold to.
To start, a brief explanation of the FCO is necessary. It stands for the Foreign Commonwealth Office, and they oversee the UK’s interests as they relate to other countries. Every year, they compile a list of countries that they deem problematic. In other words, countries that commit human rights abuses. This includes countries such as North Korea and Saudi Arabia. This is meant to guide public and economic policy. Where the list becomes relevant is when you realize that the UK exports weapons to all but one of these nations, North Korea. This means that warlords that oppress populations and governments that are hostile to their own civilians and the interests of the UK are receiving arms.
Of course, they aren’t only selling to these countries. Part of the industry involves contracts with the US. For example, the UK exports certain parts that are involved in the US’ F-35 fighter jet program. Every country has a military, and all of those militaries need weapons. It is normal that countries will trade with each other, and the weapons industry is no different. However, selling arms to a country like Saudi Arabia, who then uses those weapons to oppress their own citizenry and the people of Yemen is not the same as selling to an ally.
As conflict in Yemen has continued, the government has continued granting licenses to exporters allowing them to sell to Saudi Arabia. This could easily be framed as the government being willing to support the current Saudi regime and their actions. Some may suggest that this is flying under the radar, or that it is simply not a big enough priority for them to take serious action. However, there is evidence that that is not the case. In 2019, UK courts ruled that arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia needed to end. The UK’s government responded by getting the order repealed. This is something they are fully conscious of and committed to maintaining.
To make matters worse, the European Union and the United Nations have placed restrictions on many of the countries the UK exports weapons to. To continue doing so is to fly in the face of international law and international ethics groups. It sends the message that a few billion dollars are worth supporting corruption and oppression.
It also goes beyond weapon systems. Dual-Use licenses essentially license manufacturers to export items that could be used either for military or civilian use. For example, an optical technology could be used for security in a bank, or it could be used for spying on the public. A dual-use license would cover this export. That actually happens to be a real-life example, as the government approves licenses for China to obtain equipment for their surveillance system. This acts as a bit of a loophole. Licenses can be granted where the buyer has nefarious purposes, but one can hide behind the technicality that the items are dual use. This is the one area where they actually do export to North Korea. While it may be hard to prove what the technology is actually being used for, there is no denying that some technology is almost certainly supporting the surveillance states of unethical nations. To be fair, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Much of what they export includes firearm sales to the US. The exports to the US peaked around 2014 and have steadily declined since. It still makes up around 100 million dollars of revenue a year. They sell weapons to neutral and allied nations as well. They support the development of weapons systems in places like the US, India, and Canada. In general, exporting weapons is not necessarily an issue. However, the way licenses and deals are handed out is not conducive to an ethical society
This article was written by Jay Chambers if you enjoyed it you can find many of his firearms reviews at here