Missing in Action: UK arms export controls in war and armed conflict

March 15, 2022


Missing in Action: UK arms export controls in war and armed conflict”

Report by Prof. Anna Stavrianakis

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

4pm GST | 7pm AST | 12pm EST

Hosted by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)

This report is part of the research program “Defense Industries, Foreign Policy and Armed Conflict” funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is carried out in partnership with the OpenSecrets. It asks: why, despite robust regulation mechanisms in key exporting countries and international monitoring efforts, has the global arms trade proven remarkably resistant to effective controls – with direct enabling consequences on conflict situations?

Learn more about “Defense Industries, Foreign Policy and Armed Conflict.

The UK’s commitments to conflict prevention and the protection of human rights and international humanitarian law in its arms export controls are now over twenty years old. Despite these obligations, the outbreak of war or conflict has had little or no restraining effect on UK arms exports – even where violations of human rights and humanitarian law are documented. In conflicts as varied as the Sri Lankan civil war, the occupations of Kashmir and Palestine, and the war in Yemen, UK arms export controls have not restricted transfers in any meaningful way.

Rather than being proactively engaged to prevent harm, export controls are mobilised by the government to manage controversy once criticism emerges from civil society and Parliament. Risk assessments fail to take past patterns into account or develop preventive orientations to likely future scenarios. Further, the control regime is routinely deployed as a means of deflecting calls for restraint. Overall, export controls serve a legitimising function in an attempt to mollify parliamentary opposition, NGO and media criticism and domestic public opinion, and to signal good international citizenship in the face of ongoing exports to conflict zones in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. Many credible policy recommendations to improve export controls have been made over the years. They have rarely been put into action. The key issue is the absence of political will to address the economic, political and social costs of UK policy on arms sales.

This event explores the patterns of UK arms exports in the last two decades, with particular reference to arms exports to India and Pakistan in relation to Kashmir; to the Sri Lankan armed forces in the civil war; to Israel, used in the occupation of Palestine; and to the Saudi-led coalition in the war in Yemen. Speakers from CAAT, Mwatana for Human Rights and Palestine Solidarity Campaign will reflect on the role of the arms trade in sustaining these wars, and on avenues for progressive change.

  • Anna Stavrianakis, Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex
  • Ali Jameel, former Researcher at Mwatana for Human Rights
  • Ryvka Barnard, Deputy Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
  • Katie Fallon, Parliamentary Coordinator of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) L


Sam Perlo-Freeman, Research Coordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade

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