Part of the mess the government is in over Syria is about who to arm. But in the best traditions of the arms trade the Tories have it both ways. Foreign secretary William Hague has sent some Syrian rebels hoods offering protection against chemical weapons. But Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted export licences for chemicals that could be used in those weapons in January 2012.
The licenses were for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride. These can be used in preparing chemical weapons—though they also have commercial uses. Three military export licences for Syria are still in operation. These are for components for “four-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection” and intelligence gathering equipment. Britain exported £2.2 million of “chemicals and related products” between April and June 2013. Syria received £624,000 in British exports of “machinery and transport equipment” during the same period.
London is hosting arms fair
Britain is hosting the world’s biggest arms fair in central London next week. The DSEI fair will attract representatives from many of the world’s most repressive regimes. The government already oversees some 3,000 current export licences for arms and military equipment for 27 countries classified by the Foreign Office as “of concern”. The contracts are worth over £12 billion. That includes nearly 400 arms export licences for Israel for equipment valued at nearly £8 billion.
The contracts include components for body armour, parts for armoured vehicles, assault rifles, pistols, military support vehicles, and small arms ammunition. More than 400 current export licences to Saudi Arabia include vehicles, components for military communications equipment, crowd-control ammunition, hand grenades and teargas.
There are 62 licences for selling to Iran and 271 licences for Russia, including biotechnology equipment, sniper rifles, laser weapons systems, weapon sights and drones. Both countries are major arms suppliers to Syria.