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Anna Stavrianakis, 'The Facade of Arms Control: How the UK's export licensing system facilitates the arms trade'

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), 2008; ISBN: 9780954332990; 25pp, available online or from CAAT, price £3 + p&p – see www.caat.org.uk

“Every death an opportunity” is a subversive slogan our local campaign has used, on many occasions, against Brighton’s resident bomb factory EDO MBM.

Reading Anna Stavrianakis’ The Façade of Arms Control I discovered that there is a government-approved version of this statement. It comes in the shape of the MoD form 680 – used to assist weapon manufacturers through the process of obtaining an export licence – which states that its aim is to give “an indication of what markets may provide viable export opportunities for their products”.

That, you might think, does not sound like a government eager to reduce its arms sales. Stavrianakis’ short but sharp essay gives ample examples of how, in fact, the licensing process is more of a legitimisation mechanism than a control measure.

Through foggy guideline wording the UK manages to remain distinctly pro-export – consistently being one of the top five arms-exporting states – while simultaneously claiming to have rigorous export controls.

Especially unnerving are the loopholes that result in frequent exports to states that breach the human rights, regional stability and internal repression clauses in the guidelines - the most prominent examples being Israel and Saudi Arabia.

For activists, those instances create particularly frustrating catch-22 scenarios, where arms companies can attempt to clear themselves of responsibility by referring complaints back to the Government, and the Government will use the existence of the, flawed, guidelines to silence protest. All is not doom and gloom, however, and Stavrianakis points to successes such as the closure of DESO, which happened as a result of campaigning and without direct consultation with the arms industry.

This is a handy reference pamphlet for any campaigner, highlighting contradictions that can be challenged: as Stavrianakis states, we must hold the Government to the commitments they have made, as well as challenge their too close and comfy relationship with the arms industry. Considering how well she documents the latter, I can’t help thinking that some creative direct action may also be in order.

Topics: Arms trade