What’s the story?
Undod welcomes the news that the Court of Appeal has ruled that the licensing of arms exports to Saudi Arabia is illegal.
The judges said it was “illogical and therefore unlawful” that the UK Government’s Secretary for International Trade had authorised weapons export licenses, without an assessment of whether Saudi Arabia had breached International Humanitarian Law.1
There have been a number of reports from reliable sources claiming that such violations have occurred during the bombing raids on Yemen by the Saudi Armed Forces. That is why the Campaign Against Arms Trade – CAAT – brought the case before the court.
What’s the background?
It comes as no surprise that our bellicose, unscrupulous Government in Westminster is fighting to reverse the verdict with an appeal – a departing gift from May to her successor.2 But they are cut from the same cloth.
Boris Johnson? When he was a Foreign Minister in 2016 he supported the sale of weapons in the teeth of evidence that civilian targets were being bombed.3
Jeremy Hunt? He tried to overturn Germany’s decision not to sell weapons to the Saudis.4
But the absolute cynicism of successive UK Governments – Tory and Labour – in selling weapons to Saudi Arabia has been evident for decades. Thatcher and Britain’s leading arms firm BAE Systems, began contracts in 1985 known as ‘Al Yamamah’, which has handed the company a profit of at least £43 billion.5 It can be argued that this sustained the company, as the British state would not otherwise have had enough money to run its arms industry. And amazingly, for us today, the reason that Britain managed to sell weapons was that the USA was reluctant to stop weapons being used against Israel. In subsequent years it became apparent that there’d been bribery on an industrial scale, and eventually the Serious Fraud Office conducted an investigation – but following pressure from the Saudis, Blair brought a stop to the investigation. It says a great deal of the moral measure of the two Prime Ministers considered the most ‘successful’ in recent times.
Protecting the interests of the arms trade and the military industrial complex is the priority of our government in London, not saving lives – which happen to be the lives of people who have darker skin than the majority of us.
Today, our state (with the help of the Windsors) provides more Saudi weapons than any other country except for the USA. Not only that, but they also train their armed forces and maintain their aircraft.6
The Yemen war is the plight destroying that country, killing its people without hesitation regardless of whether the slaughtered are soldiers or not. Horror is so common that it is a way of life for both sides of the massacre. Yet the bloody fingerprints of the post-imperial British cover those innocent bodies. It is the innocent who are killed when schools, hospitals and marriages are attacked.
A recent report states that nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen.7
Famine is rife in the country and over a million people have been affected by cholera. It is said that 80% (27 million) of the population need humanitarian aid, and that around 10 million people are on the threshold of starvation.8
What does this have to do with Wales?
Wales is used for the purposes of war, and there is an explicit link with events in Yemen.
The “Storm Shadow” and “Paveway IV” missiles have been fired at Yemen. These were tested at Aberporth with the aircraft Typhoon in 2010 and 2015.910 It is worth remembering that a promise of 1,000 jobs was made but there are fewer than 50 there today.
Llanbedr Airfield near Harlech is to be developed to test drones. The development is supported by £500,000 of taxpayers’ money given by Gwynedd Council. Llanbedr is part of the “Snowdonia Enterprise Zone” along with Trawsfynydd, where the Council, AM Dafydd Elis Thomas and MP Liz Saville Roberts all support the development of a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) which, as shown by the University of Sussex’ research, is primarily to keep nuclear skills in Britain for the nuclear-powered Trident submarines.11
This area off the coast of west Wales is the first to be designated for the purpose of war preparation and remote killing in this way.12 Our Government in Cardiff is content for this to happen, and few politicians are heard voicing a different view. Once again, there has been little public debate about this – which is characteristic of the manner in which Wales has been militarised over the last century.
Saudi Arabia pilots were trained at RAF Valley on Anglesey, where a number of humanitarian organisations held a vigil of protest last year.13 RAF Valley has also been granted the freedom of Anglesey by the County Council, who have also appointed an Armed Forces Champion.
The Welsh Government promotes the munitions and war industry, as is evident from their supportive statements and publications.14 These are some of the massive armaments and military companies that receive a fawning and servile welcome from the Welsh Government: BAE Systems (2.6 billion weapons for Saudi last year); Raytheon (Paveway IV manufacturers); QinetiQ (drone testing).
What does this have to do with an independent Wales?
The principles that an independent Wales should embrace are completely contrary to the lack of principle implemented by the UK Government in the weapons and military industry. We cannot, in an independent Wales, leave defence matters in the hands of London. We cannot simply accept the fact that so much of our country is used for the preparation of war, that our poorest people are targeted for recruitment into the army, and that so many of our jobs depend on the vicious machine that teaches the killing of people, in the most ruthless of ways.
The dependence on the arms trade and war industry is immoral, and keeps us dependent on Westminster. Westminster’s policy is to spend on weapons and militarism.15
Westminster’s policy is austerity that squeezes our communities and County Councils, and leaves us prey to any promise of ‘jobs’, however unlikely. An independent Wales that allies itself with militarism would replicate the same kind of unjust state that exists here at present.
I don’t want to be part of such a state.
An independent Wales should genuinely get to grips with alternative employment for those working in the arms industry – the New Lucas Plan and the Shadow Defence Diversification Agency16 offer some possible solutions.
We must ask why so much of our land, and now our seas and airspace, are under the dead hand of the Ministry of Defence. What should an independent Wales do about this? Think about this seriously, and consider how many of our historic areas have been transformed for the worse. Epynt should be just as important to us as Tryweryn.
It is about time Wales woke up to the fact that military activity here leads to widespread killing in foreign wars – and that very often it is the innocent that are killed. We raise our voices against such barbaric cruelty. As the Yemeni humanitarian correspondent Hisham al-Omeisy states: ‘It is the smallest coffin that is the heaviest coffin’.