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Alms in Arms

How to get round an arms embargo: First, call yourself BAE Systems. Then, take a controlling stake in a German arms company that sells P-5 machine guns. Get that company to sell the P5s to an arms dealer in Switzerland who knows a gunrunner. They will in turn change the warehouse labels to something harmless, say, hospital equipment. Bob’s yer uncle, Mugabe’s got his hands on some new toys – and we ain’t talking surgical gloves. This is just one of many tips comedian Mark Thomas gives in his startling book As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela, which also sees school children buying arms online to show just how easy it all is.

The standard lines the government gives to defend the status quo:

1) British jobs depend on the arms industry – BAE employs thousands of people.

2) Friendly countries need help to fight off insurgents and terrorists. This same argument is used is the US, which has recently promised Saudi Arabia billions of dollars in arms.

The first response is at best short sighted, at worst dangerously naive. How can we be sure that weapons destined for “friendly” countries, which include Saudi, Pakistan and various other unstable regimes, do not fall into the wrong hands? Thomas argues that we can’t. Simply gaining assurances that the weapons will not be boxed up upon arrival and resold is an honour-amongst-thieves form of enforcement. Indeed, it is as likely that weapons destined for the “friends” will end up in the hands of coke dealers in London or insurgents in Iraq. The US government has just announced that 190,000 AK 47s have "gone missing" in Iraq. To fight insurgents and drug barons is surely more costly then letting go a few BAE execs?

If the first argument is naive, the second is utter folly. How can any well-meaning government be sure that friends today won’t be enemies tomorrow? The Scott report into arms sales to Iraq revealed that Saddam’s big guns came with Made in Britain as standard, back in the good ol' days when big Saddam was fighting Iran. These same guns were then used against serving troops in the first Gulf War. And didn’t Saudi just send a load of Jihadists into Iraq? And forgive another awkward question, but weren’t the 9/11 bombers from Saudi? The standard Bush response: Give ‘em more guns.

Saudi Arabia should not be rewarded for disloyalty, and like Pakistan, the continued fermentation of hate within its own borders. These states should be rewarded for opening up and for becoming a democracies. Paradoxically, if they did so they may find they needed fewer, not more weapons. And the US is far more likely to find an allies in countries that value freedom over suppression, rather than in those which attempt to hold it over a barrel of a gun.

America should stay AND go

Believing the ridiculous