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Arms dealers and other slippery fish

The Guardian (UK) - June 10, 1997

Adam Sweeting – Is there any such thing as ethical arms trading? Robin Cook has pledged the Government to a policy of not selling arms to repressive or aggressive regimes. An admirable philosophy, but boil it down logically and you're left with 'we promise not to sell weapons to anybody who might use them', or 'we'll only sell weapons to nice people'. Hardly a tenable position if Britain – which has the world's fourth largest defence industry – intends to remain competitive in the unscrupulous billion-dollar international marketplace. The French and the Chinese will be doubled up with laughter.

Part two of World In Action's investigation of Britain's arms trade to the unloveable Indonesian regime (ITV) was subtitled Profit Before Principle. It seems we're still up to our necks in selling weapons to Indonesia, which uses them to pursue its genocidal policies in East Timor. We send them Tactical riot-control vehicles, Land-Rovers, Heckler & Koch submachine guns and Hawk jets. British 'experts' also train the Indonesian special forces.

There were nauseating photographs of victims of Indonesian torture, and pitiful pleas from protesters and civil rights activists for Britain to stop selling equipment to this despicable government. World In Action's inquiries led them to Procurement Services International, which brokers British arms to Indonesia. They secretly filmed managing director Nick Oliver as he boasted of his firm's A700 million Indonesian contracts and explained how more people are killed in Northern Ireland than in East Timor. 'The difference is that in East Timor they do it in blocks of 200, and in Northern Ireland they do one or two a day,' he said breezily.

The killer blow was Oliver's claim that he had spoken to Tony Blair before Labour's victory, and allegedly Blair's view was that 'the type of equipment the Conservatives have given export licences to will present no difficulty for the Labour government'. Blair's office denies the claim. Meanwhile, government experts will be grappling with the explosive equation between arms sales, export earnings, British jobs and votes. And morality, of course.