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November 7, 2012 3:20 PM   Subscribe

The Gulf protection racket is corrupt and dangerous folly.
Here is a graphic showing UK arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa.
Is Britain arming oppressive regimes in the Middle East?.
However U.S. Arms Sales Make Up Most of Global Market.
posted by adamvasco (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You know what, I'm not shocked that Western countries sell weapons to dictators. It's sad and should stop, but it's no shock. However, I am ashamed that my own Prime Minister whores himself out to actually sell the things, and doesn't even seek to cover that up. Christ on a stick, have some fucking decency.
posted by Jehan at 3:34 PM on November 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not surprised either, though I wonder to what extent it is self-perpetuating. I mean, could a new President/Prime Minister get into office and say, "Oh, this is just bullshit. Stops now," or is one of the prices of power that the weapons must flow?
posted by Mooski at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2012

From the first link: Naturally, western leaders and Arab autocrats claim the Gulf states are threatened by Iran. In reality, that would only be a risk if the US or Israel attacked Iran ...

My gosh, Seamus Milne is a twit. Has he never heard of Hezbollah, Iran's puppet army that dominates both Lebanon's army and its politics? Does he not know about the Shiite insurgency in Saudi Arabia? Was he asleep during the Iran-Iraq war, which was the second-longest of the 20th century? Half a million people died during it. Or that Iran has the seventh largest army in the world? There's a really good table here on Wikipedia that lets you sort by different criteria; apparently Iceland has 130 paramilitary troops and no other army at all. Huh.

Is Britain arming oppressive regimes in the Middle East?

Wait, which regimes in the Middle East are the good guys, again?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:55 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wait, which regimes in the Middle East are the good guys, again?

The ones that buy US and UK manufacturing exports which create jobs and broaden the tax base. Need it be any more complicated than that? Surely if Western countries demur from arms sales, the Chinese, Russians, and Brasilians will be very happy to take the business.

Also making weapons available on a cash and carry basis to all comers would diminish incentives for these nations to develop their own defense industry. If Iran could buy as much conventional arms as they wanted, there would be less of a need for them to acquire an independent nuclear defense. As it is, sanctions only makes domestic weapons development more imperative for them.
posted by three blind mice at 4:12 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Joe did you realize 50 nations sold arms to Iraq and Iran including Israel who sold arms to Iran.
However that was then and this is now and what is being discussed here is not I/P but how the arms sellers are being aided by elected politicians; in this case a prime minister publically shilling for them; in order to sell arms to regimes which are in turn using them to surpress their citizens.
posted by adamvasco at 4:17 PM on November 7, 2012

Rah! Rah!
Shoot Support our troops!

Arms dealers are some of the most contemptible people on earth.
Right below the politicians allowing this.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

20 years of data on Canadian exports to North Africa and the Middle East from the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade

Canadian data excludes exports to the US, which is often then sold again to other countries. Often Canadian companies create part of a weapon and then this is added to a completed weapon elsewhere.
posted by chapps at 4:26 PM on November 7, 2012

Say what you will about the US and UK selling weapons to the Saudis, but it is the selling countries that have a history of illegal warmongering in the region and notthe buying one.
posted by atrazine at 4:41 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

They have oil and want guns. We have guns and want oil.
posted by humanfont at 5:09 PM on November 7, 2012

Joe in Australia:
Was he asleep during the Iran-Iraq war, which was the second-longest of the 20th century? Half a million people died during it.
I think perhaps you might need to take a refresher on that war. Maybe start with the Wikipedia article:
The Iran–Iraq War began when Iraq invaded Iran via simultaneous invasions by air and land on 22 September 1980.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 5:13 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pranksome Quaine, I don't dispute that the Iran-Iraq war mas mostly started by Iraq (although Iran kept it going longer than necessary) but my point is that Iran's execution of the war was utterly horrifying in its single-minded intensity. They showed themselves to be a formidable force that was willing to do anything, even sacrifice their own children to win. And they were sufficiently resilient to survive a very long war, and they have recovered from that war. I'm not saying that this makes them the bad guys, but I am saying that if I were their neighbour I would be utterly terrified of them.

So when Seamus Milne says that the Gulf states would only be at risk if the US or Israel attacked Iran, he's smoking crack. Their massive army makes them a threat all by itself, and the fact that they recruit and promote para-state actors makes them an active threat. It takes a peculiarly UKan arrogance to tell a whole bunch of countries that their fear of a fundamentalist apocalyptic regime with one of the world's largest armies means they're being paranoid, but that's the Guardian for you.

And Adamvasco, this is one Middle-Eastern thread which, remarkably, seems to have nothing to do with I/P! Because all of the arms recipients are bad guys! So it's not a matter of Britain selectively selling arms to corrupt dictators and brutal juntas, but Britain selling arms in the first place.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:26 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Was he asleep during the Iran-Iraq war, which was the second-longest of the 20th century?

The erm war that Iraq started you mean, which continued for so long because western arms sales kept propping up Saddam's regime, up to and including the sale of equipment to make poison gas, used against both Kurds in north Iraq and Irani soldiers?

Israel who sold arms to Iran.

On behalf of the US even, who then used the money gained from this to arm the terrorist contra movement in Nicaragua so it could better murder and rape doctors, nurses, teachers and other government workers.

Has he never heard of Hezbollah, Iran's puppet army that dominates both Lebanon's army and its politics?

Hezbollah which has a lot of popular support in Lebanon, both because of its successes fighting Israel (remember the 2006 invasion?) and because of its social policies? It's supported by Iran, yes, but to call it a puppet army is as moronic as you think Milne was.

Does he not know about the Shiite insurgency in Saudi Arabia?

Ah yes, the foreign agitator theory of popular revolts. It's not that the dictatoral radical sunni monarchy is actively oppressing the shi'ite minority that causes them to revolt, it's the evil Irani puppet masters...

Milne is far more right than you are in concluding that it's hardly likely that Iran will be the aggressor in any new Middle Eastern war. The Islamic Republic has long lost the radicalism that it had in the eighties (not helped by the aforementioned Iraq-Iran War of course) and while its domestic policies are ... not quite liberal shall we say, foreign policy wise it has been a far more responsible member of the international community than the US. Frex, unlike the US, I'm not aware Iran has been carrying out remote drone assassinations, been involved in two wars in countries at the other end of the world, supplying air cover for an insurgent uprising in a third country or kidnapping people from the streets of its supposed allies to disappear into a gulag...

Ironically, one of the original sins of the post-shah Iran was that it cancelled huge numbers of outstanding weapons sales after the fall of the Shah in 1979...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:10 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

less of a need for them to acquire an independent nuclear defense

It's important to note that this assumes that Iran is actually attempting this, which has been alleged but not proven for a long time now. Iran has long been interested in nuclear energy, dating from the Shah's regime and its current nuclear programme is in line with that. Yes, there may be nefarious motives behind it as well, but that has not been proven.

Context is also important. The idea that Israel or the US can be under an existentional threat because Iran might be developing programmes for the development of nuclear weapons, when Israel itself has anywhere from an estimated 100 to 200 nuclear weapons (and, in one incident during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, shown a willingness to let the US believe it might use it if pressed hard enough). Any attempt by Iran to use its as yet non-existing weapons would lead to it being destroyed quickly. Paranoid fantasies about using a non-state actor instead are nonsense too -- any such action would quickly be traced back to it, even if we assume Israel or the US would not attack on general principes in such a situation. The Irani leaders have more reality and common sense than to do this.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:36 PM on November 7, 2012

The issue, as ever, is whether arms sales is realpolitik or something where hard lines should be drawn in the sand.

It is easy to condemn arms sales to apparently oppressive regimes. And that clear moral compass is arguably a good thing. It is indisputably a rare thing though, even among countries which otherwise have a good track record of respecting human rights on their own soil.

But on the flip side, there are several reasons why sales to apparently oppressive regimes can make sense. Firstly, not all "arms" sales are alike. Military land rovers or clothing or torches, for example, are not like rocket launchers. Secondly, arms sales build and break bridges. I don't just mean trade relations, but they generate high level conversations between our side and high level military and political representatives on their side. From a diplomatic and intelligence perspective, this is highly valued. Thirdly - sadly - if country x doesn't sell the kit then country y will. It's not a great reason for "us" to be doing the selling, but if you're a politician having to explain why a factory in your area is shutting down, it is a powerful motivator. Finally - and often overlooked - for sensitive kit like tanks and anti-aircraft systems there is a school of thought that says it is extremely useful to know exactly what a country is using because you sold it to them. Rarely, if at all, are these countries sold the very latest technology. One needs to be more careful about what gets sold where, but nonetheless, selling arms to a country gives you the ability to determine its military capabilities and weaknesses.

Taking either side of the arms sales argument is an easy thing to do. Drawing up a list of what kit can be sold to what countries - taking into account the strategic risk and political landscape of that country over the duration of the contract and the lifetime of the hardware is the hard part.

Also - do we really pay the price for selling arms to oppressive regimes? I'm not so sure that is just a given. I think we pay the price for meddling generally, backing multiple horses and supporting rebel groups with which we have little common cause. But it's not a given that, say, a newly democratic Bahrain would swing any more towards Iran or China just because the UK or the US has supported the status quo now.

Realpolitik is a feature everywhere: I've lived in a country where, under the same government, it went from fully Russian-backed "communism" to US-backed "not-communism in the space of five years. The hardest lesson new leaders face is that you have no friends: you can choose to be in hock to a large regional player or a large global player, or a superpower. But if you want to trade, get investment or have security you will sacrifice some level of self-determinism.

And having two masters as counterweights to one another can be more attractive than just one.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:41 AM on November 8, 2012

Ignoring morals, it's just a nice politically affordable way of increasing defence funding. A loan to another country which is immediately returned to our defence industries is really just a subsidy.
posted by leo_r at 12:07 PM on November 8, 2012

atrazine: Say what you will about the US and UK selling weapons to the Saudis, but it is the selling countries that have a history of illegal warmongering in the region and notthe buying one.
True only as long as you restrict "the buying one" to just one buyer, the Saudis. Add Israel, Shah-period Iran, Pakistan... [Edit: or, what Pranksome Quaine said.]

Also, I'm not sure what the distinction "illegal" makes in warmongering.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:39 AM on November 9, 2012

Dammit, quoted the wrong person. Giving up.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:45 AM on November 9, 2012

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