Report reveals the extent of arms firms’ staff employed in the MoD
28 September 2022
A report by Open Democracy reveals the extent of penetration of the Ministry of Defence by individuals employed by the arms companies. This raises immediate issues of conflict of interest, national security and the awarding of millions of pounds of contracts to those same firms as well as the question of licences allowing arms sales to proceed. Open Democracy report that the government would not say whether such secondments represented a conflict of interest.
There has been a long running campaign by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade CAAT, to hold the government to account for sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. These weapons have been used in the war in Yemen causing untold misery and destruction and the deaths of at least 8,983 people. CAAT had some success and there was a brief moratorium. The government resumed offering licences claiming that violations of international human rights were ‘isolated incidents’. CAAT reports that an appeal is to be heard on 31 January 2023.
Firms include BAE, Leonardo and Qinetiq which has a large presence near Salisbury. The numbers are not small and around 50 individuals are involved. It has been confirmed that they were largely concentrated in the UK Defence and Export directorate which is involved in helping firms sell arms overseas. CAAT points out that it shows that the secondments are deeply embedded in the ministry. The government should be keeping a close eye on what arms are exported to which regime with proper attention to the human rights of the people involved in conflicts. This does not seem to have happened in the case of Yemen and free reign has been offered to companies to sell weapons to Saudi which have been used to bomb schools, hospitals, weddings and other targets. RAF personnel were also revealed to be involved in the activity.
An additional factor is what is called the ‘revolving door’. Senior civil servants, some ex-ministers and senior forces personnel – such as Generals and Admirals – leave or retire from their jobs and take lucrative positions in arms companies with only cursory checks. ACOBA is the government body charged with overseeing this is but has been widely criticised as ‘toothless’. A Private Eye report describes in detail the extent of the corruption. CAAT comments that staff leaving the forces or the MoD take with them extensive contacts and a deep knowledge of how the ministry works. Existing staff are reluctant to upset the arms companies for fear of jeopardising a lucrative consultancy or board appointment when it is their turn to retire. Transparency International have also reported on this problem in a report.
The sale of arms is a profoundly sensitive issue. What arms are sold to which regime is a matter of considerable importance. Films of conflicts around the world always show the various groups armed to the teeth with a wide range of weapons sold to them by overseas firms including those from the UK. These weapons cause untold misery, death or maiming of thousands of people and children. We surely have the right and expectation that the MoD is adopting the highest of standards in deciding on these matters and that decisions are taken with the greatest of integrity.
Yet what we find is that ministers are pusillanimous over the issuing of licences, that large numbers of staff from arms companies are involved in the decisions being made and that senior staff and military people are working in the expectation of being employed by the very companies they are supposed to be in control of.
The result of their actions is the death and suffering of people subject to bombing, drone attacks, cluster munitions, shelling and other outrages courtesy of UK arms firms aided and abetted by a deeply compromised Ministry of Defence. Is the Ministry working on our behalf, or to serve the interests of the arms firms?