The UK has become the world’s second largest arms dealer, second only to the United States.
Figures released by UK Trade and Investment showed that in the last decade the UK had exported more arms than Russia, China or France.
During the past ten years, the UK has won significant defence orders globally, with deals being struck with a wide range of countries from South Korea to Ireland.
The report bodes well for the UK’s defence industry where the export market plays a key role in spurring development. In 2015 UK-based defence companies won over £7.7bn worth of contracts.
One of the largest export markets is the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being a major purchaser of UK defence technology. Saudi Arabia is currently leading a coalition of nine Arab states intervening in the Yemeni Civil War. The coalition has been accused of several human rights violations, including four strikes on Médecins Sans Frontières medical facilities. Earlier this year, British made cluster munitions were found after an air strike in Yemen.
Critics have however questioned the ethics of the UK’s arms trade. More than £3bn worth of defence equipment was exported to countries that the Foreign Office has designated as “Human Rights Priority Countries”. These are countries that have been identified as where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”. The list currently stands at 30 countries, of which 21 received UK arms.
A government spokesperson said:
“The government takes its arms export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every brokering application on a pre-licensing case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.
“Export licensing requires us to consider how the equipment will be used by the end-user and risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment. We consider this approach to be sufficiently tough but where there is evidence of a need for further action we have the powers to do so under existing legislation”.
Prime Minister May is expected to discuss the issue of arms deals at the G20 summit this week in China.