Bad Timing: PM Cameron in Mideast Selling Arms

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/24/2011 10:52:00 PM
The British press is having a field day with the coalition government's apparent delay in retrieving its citizens from Libya. Delay aside, let's say there are a lot of incidents suggesting the government was caught unawares. Foreign Secretary William Hague made a gaffe a few days ago in suggesting Moammar Qadhafi was on his way to Venezuela to join his good friend Hugo Chavez. Meanwhile, Deputy PM Nick Clegg forgot he was in charge while Cameron was away interesting business trip.

As it turns out, part of the reason for the slack government response has been PM David Cameron being away on business in the Middle East. Among the wares he was hawking on behalf of British industrialists included, er, weaponry. While the UK decries what's happening in Libya with the ruling Qadhafi clan in last stand mode, it's probable that arms the current government continued to sell to Libya figure into Qadhafi's current repression. From Defence Management [!]:
Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the decision to bring arms industry representatives with him on a trade mission to the Middle East. Cameron has been criticised for taking BAE Systems chief executive Ian King and representatives of Thales, Qinetiq and Rolls-Royce on his current Middle East trade mission. Weapons sold by the UK had reportedly been used to suppress civilians in Libya and other countries affected by civil unrest in recent weeks.

Speaking in Kuwait, Cameron said: "A properly regulated trade in defence is nothing we should be ashamed of.,,The fact that there are British defence companies on this visit – BAE, Thales and others – is perfectly right in this regard...We have probably the toughest set of export rules probably anywhere in the world. It is obviously difficult to get it right on every occasion."

Defence Secretary Liam Fox earlier said the UK should get "a healthy slice" of arms exports in the Middle East within certain ethical limits.Speaking after a speech at thinktank Civitas, Fox said that there were always a "great deal of unknowns" and that each export should be dealt with on "a case-by-case basis."

"We have to recognise that countries have a right of self-defence and not all of them have a defence industry so they will always buy externally," he said. "I want to make sure the United Kingdom - within the limits that we set ourselves ethically on defence exports - is getting a healthy slice of that."
The New Statesman juxtaposes matters thusly:
In his speech to the Kuwaiti National Assembly on 22 February, David Cameron appeared to acknowledge the limits of the policy so far when he declared that "denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse". But the Prime Minister's laudable words were undermined by his decision to travel to the region with eight of Britain's leading arms manufacturers [out of 30 concerns]. To his critics, Mr Cameron replied: "A properly regulated trade in defence is nothing we should be ashamed of." Yet the presence of Gerald Howarth, a defence minister, at an arms fair in Abu Dhabi - where British companies sold tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets for the purposes of "crowd control" - was something to be ashamed of. Rather than delaying action until the moment governments open fire on their own people, as happened in Bahrain and Libya, ministers should declare an immediate arms embargo.
Talk about corporate social responsibility issues galore. It's a hard decision to make on several levels. Defence industries provide employment. Oftentimes, they also lie at the forefront of research and development that are crucial to enhancing much-ballyhooed international competitiveness. How do you channel these two positively without selling these wares to such regimes? This balancing act is certainly a difficult one.

UPDATE: Sarkozy too was keen on selling arms to Libya.