Journal Column – 8th June

The UK Government has confirmed that a British Military Mission had trained the Saudi Arabian National Guard, many of whom may subsequently have taken part in what you could call an occupation of Bahrain against the will of the people. These were people protesting on the streets against their own authoritarian government.
It is unclear from the government’s response just how extensive and how wide-ranging these responsibilities which we have entered into are. Or indeed how many armies representing repressive regimes have been extensively trained by the UK army.  Clearly, our relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is also allowed to train pilots in low-flight sorties in UK airspace, must be put under the microscope.

According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, more than £1.5bn worth of UK strategic arms licenses were exported to Saudi Arabia in 2009 – a country which, according to our Foreign Office, is a country whose human rights are of major concern with an authoritarian government.  Meanwhile, in 2010 in Bahrain, where a brutal suppression of protest took place, equipment approved for UK export included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns. No requests for licences were refused.
It is intensely hypocritical of our leadership in the UK, Labour or Conservative, to talk of supporting freedoms in the middle-east and elsewhere while at the same time training crack troops of dictatorships and supplying them with tens of millions of pounds worth of weapons.  Exactly what did the UK Government think these authoritarian un-democratic governments were going to do with this arsenal of weapons, and why, just as the Arab Spring was beginning, was Cameron on an arms trade mission to the middle-east?
The UK Government cannot promote democracy while arming despots.  We must stop picking and choosing our dictators and always work for democracy and a peaceful transition to lawful government across the world – with the people and their right to freedom being sovereign.  I and my colleagues in Plaid Cymru will be challenging the UK Government further over this. We need to establish the true nature of the UK’s role in training Saudi Arabia’s National Guard and the UK Government has to be crystal clear about its policies in this area and the consequences of those actions.

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