Britain’s Cameron Defends Arab Gulf Weapons Sales

Selling fighter jets to undemocratic nations is “completely legitimate,” says the premier.

A Eurofighter Typhoon flies over Bangalore, India, February 11, 2011
A Eurofighter Typhoon flies over Bangalore, India, February 11, 2011 (Ruben Alexander)

British prime minister David Cameron on Monday defended arms sales to Arab Gulf states which he described as “completely legitimate and right” despite apprehension in his own country about arming authoritarian regimes.

Cameron embarked on a three day visit to the region that is aimed at securing the sale of up to one hundred Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and strengthening relations with Arab allies amid growing concerns over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Asked about the morality of selling weapons to undemocratic states, Cameron said, “We do believe countries have a right to defend themselves. And we do believe Britain has important defense industries that employ over 300,000 people.”

Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are in talks with Britain’s BAE Systems defense contractor to purchase Typhoon fighter jets, a deal that could be worth more than £6 billion or $9.5 billion. The Saudis already operate 72 Typhoons.

As the United Kingdom and other European nations cut back on defense spending, companies like BAE have to reach out beyond NATO member states to sustain the level of research and development that is necessary to produce world beating military capabilities, writes Con Coughlin in The Telegraph.

Not all Britons are as convinced. The left-wing Guardian newspaper last October described the United Arab Emirates as an “authoritarian regime,” much to the chagrin of its policymakers, while a parliamentary inquiry is expected to look into Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Saudi officials told the BBC last month that they were “insulted” by these plans. David Cameron on Monday described the kingdom as “a very old ally and partner.”

British relations with the Arab Gulf states date back centuries. The present day United Arab Emirates possibly owe their very existence to early nineteenth century British imperialism in the Persian Gulf region as treaties that were conducted with costal sheikhs at the time to combat piracy legitimized their rule and enabled them to remain in power with Britain’s security guarantee. British-Saudi relations flourished during the First World War when the two countries allied against the Ottoman Empire.

Britain’s exports to the Arab Gulf states are worth some £17 billion, more than the value of its exports to China and India combined. Gulf investment in the United Kingdom amounted to more than £1.4 billion last year, according to the Foreign Office.

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