Christian Aid today (December 14) warns the UK Government against double standards in its engagement on war and peace and demands that it stops selling arms to Saudi Arabia, as well as other states which are violating international law.
The charity is calling out the UK as complicit in the war in Yemen, in direct violation of its own international commitments to regulate its arms exports to states acting illegally and repressively.
And it stresses that the UK currently spends about £37bn on its military, or nearly £600 per person per year — in effect spending three times the amount on the military that it spends on aid.
The warnings and conclusions form part of a new report on peacebuilding to coincide with Christian Aid’s Christmas peacemakers appeal and a campaign by Christian Aid supporters who are sending Christmas cards to the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, echoing the demand that the UK immediately ceases to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition.
The report, Resourcing war and peace: time to address the UK Government’s double standards, points out that the UK deliberately allocates at least half of its development spending to conflict-affected states and regions, yet more than half of its arms exports are now sold to countries within these same regions using their militaries to wage war abroad or repress their own people.
The charity argues that this increasingly casts a shadow on the UK Government’s attempts to profile itself as a values-based international actor committed to tackling global conflict. Germany, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark (further exports only) and Finland have all suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Canada may follow suit soon.The US Senate has also provoked debate on ongoing support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
As peace talks over Yemen conclude today [Friday] in Sweden, this is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the European Union and the wider world.
Christian Aid says there is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid and half of its aid budget to conflict affected states. Yet, it adds, the UK is on track to be one of the world’s biggest arms dealers – fuelling war instead of peace.
Over the last five years, the UK has sold over two-thirds of its major arms exports to Gulf Arab States, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for 49% of all such exports.
Mari McNeill, Head of Christian Aid Wales said, “We are heartened to see that the Welsh public is with us on this, with 62% believing these arms sales to Saudi Arabia should stop. The recent protests at RAF Valley on Anglesey, where Saudi pilots are being trained, also shows that the Welsh public believe that the UK Government should be doing more in their efforts to build peace. It’s critical that we recognise that two billion people live in countries affected by conflict, instability and violence and that we recognise the role of conflict in keeping people in poverty. The call for a renewed focus on peacebuilding globally is so urgent.”
Karol Balfe, Christian Aid’s Head of From Violence to Peace, said, “No other arms exporter comes close to this dependence on the Gulf market. In turn, this means that the Royal Saudi Air Force is hugely dependent on British-made aircraft and missiles – maintained and supported in-country by British military and civilian technicians for its own operations.
“The UK Government risks putting its own perceived national security and domestic interests ahead of human security and protection of those living in conflict. In our work, we see that local actors make a huge difference in turning the tide of violence”.
Rowan Williams, Christian Aid’s chair and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “We can’t pretend that British involvement in war is a thing of the past. We may not have experienced the direct effects of war in this country for a lifetime, and we can be thankful for that; but our overseas policies are still helping to support violence and injustice elsewhere in the world, among those least able to defend themselves.
“The scale of the humanitarian catastrophe that has overtaken Yemen is one of the most dramatic instances. 14 million people are on the brink of famine, as a result of a war that continues to claim the lives of countless civilians. And this is a war in which the government of the UK is directly complicit: arms sales from this country to Saudi Arabia have increased by two thirds since 2016 and now account for nearly half of Britain’s major arms exports.
“Sustainable development needs political security and the rule of law; it means people having a safe place to call home, security of food supplies and guaranteed access to medical and educational services. Without these things, any talk of security is going to be empty and meaningless – at best a sticking-plaster, at worst something that contributes to worsening our shared insecurity”.
The report adds that:
In 2017 the world spent an estimated $1.74tn dollars on weapons and its military. That is $231 for every man, woman and child. Last year saw the first real terms increase in global military spending since the end of the US occupation of Iraq in 2011. If the trend continues as expected this year, the figure is likely to exceed $1.8tn, the highest it has ever been.2
Around two billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. These countries typically have the highest poverty rates and are often seemingly trapped in endless cycles of violence and conflict. Human development cannot be achieved without tackling violence and building peace. People who do not have a safe place to call home, reliable access to food and an income because of violence, cannot plan for the future.
This Christmas, Christian Aid calls on the UK Government to be a peacemaker by:
- The UK Government should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and other states which are violating international law.
- The UK Government, along with other governments across the globe, should commit to significantly more spending on peace and less on militarisation.
- While the UK has in many ways led global efforts to respond to conflict, it needs a clear vision of peacebuilding, putting those living in conflict, in particular, localpeace actors, at the heart of its approach.
The photo shows doves of peace created by children at Llandaff Cathedral for Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal