By Liam Finn
The Government is preparing to launch an attack against Syria – exactly ten years after the UK invited the country to shop for arms in London.
The invitation for Syria to attend the 2003 Defence & Security Equipment International exhibition (DSEi) – an arms fair held every two years at ExCeL in London Docklands – was rejected. Invitees to DSEi 2013 will not be announced until 10 September, the day the fair begins.
DSEi is the world’s largest arms fair, with 1,400 exhibitors from 50 countries. Describing itself as “the must-attend event of 2013”, it hosts sales pitches for military equipment, including tanks, planes, and warships. Countries regularly invited include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt.
The DSEi invitation appears to be just one of a series of potentially reckless acts taken in relation to Syria and arms trading.
Preparations for a military response to last week’s alleged chemical murder of civilians by the Syrian regime come a year after the UK withdrew licences to supply chemicals to Syria. The licences were granted as recently as January 2012, even though the civil war had begun the previous year. Despite arguing that the specific chemicals had “legitimate commercial uses”, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, acknowledged that “they could also be used as precursor chemicals in the manufacture of chemical weapons” instead of their intended use for making aluminium showers and windows.
Parliamentary reports have revealed other exports to Syria authorised by the Government. A licence to export “sporting gun ammunition” was withdrawn having been originally granted despite “pre-existing concerns” about the country. One report details a further seven licences for exports of equipment, including bullet-proof vehicles. The Government insists these are for a UK company, commercial use, or the protection of foreigners and civilians.
Military action against Syria will be the latest in a series of attacks by the UK against a State to which it has previously encouraged or authorised arms exports. Colonel Gaddafi’s regime was encouraged to buy British equipment and invited to attend DSEi before a no-fly zone was implemented above Libya in 2011. The sale of arms to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before the first Gulf War resulted in a huge scandal in the 1990s. British-made ships and helicopters were used by Argentina in the Falklands War.