Arms on defensive

Defence industry makers are worried over embargo threat

By Melanie Tringham

Britain’s defence industry is holding its breath: although fears of swingeing cuts from Labour’s defence review, announced last week, have been quelled by Government reassurances, there is concern over ethical arms exports.

Foreign secretary Robin Cook said he would review exports to countries with repressive regimes. `We have made a firm commitment not to permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression,’ he told parliament.

The question is which countries? Britain already has embargoes to the most obvious candidates. Its current restrictions on sales to Iran and Argentina supplement international embargoes to places such as Iraq and Angola. EU members are also prevented from exporting to places such as Afghanistan and China.

Indonesia is the most obvious target because of its questionable human rights record. Indonesia bought £125m of arms from Britain last year.

Purchases included 60 Hawk aircraft from British Aerospace, 16 of which were ordered last November.

But BAe sees the embargo threat as theoretical because it claims it has never been proved these aircraft have been used for `repressive’ purposes.

But an Indonesian embargo has been taken more seriously by GKN. Many of its Tactica armoured vehicles have been sold to the regime in the past, and it fears the Government may stop it taking up an export licence granted last December for further vehicles, because of suspicions they may be used for student riot control.

If exports to Indonesia were stopped, the £125m of sales would translate into 10,000 direct and indirect job losses from the industry’s 400,000 jobs. Up to 10% of the country’s manufacturing base depends on the defence industry.

`What industry seeks is quite clear rules,’ said Major General Alan Sharman, director general of the Defence Manufacturers’ Association.