Why are BAE Systems Bad Company?
Letter from Church Leaders
BAE systems is the largest arms producer in the UK. It attracts consistent criticism for its sale of military equipment to oppressive regimes and human rights abusing dictatorships.
According to Unicef, 90% of casualties of war are civilians, 2 million children have been killed by war in the last decade and 6 million children seriously injured. The only people that profit are the arms companies.
FUELLING CONFLICT -- BAE has been taking advantage of the USA's 10% increase in weapons spending for equipment used in the illegal war in Iraq. While India and Pakistan were on the brink of nuclear war, BAE tried to sell 66 Hawk Jets worth £1 billion to India. The UK Ministry of Defence has also ordered equipment for use in Iraq including Cluster Bomb shells.
OPPRESSIVE REGIMES -- BAE supplied Hawk Ground Attack aircraft to the Suharto military dictatorship in Indonesia which were used to attack civilians in then illegally-occupied East Timor. BAE also supplied Hawk Jets to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Very recently BAE have sold Radar Equipment to the oppressive regime in Colombia, while a subsidiary of BAE is refurbishing 105-millimetre guns for the armed forces of Morocco, who illegally occupy Western Sahara. These guns are used along the Western Saharan border over which 160,000 Saharawi refugees have fled since 1975. Some F-16 aircraft sold to the US have been passed on to Israel, and used in bombing of civilian areas.
CORRUPTION -- BAE is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for running a slush fund for the Saudi Royal family, and paying more than a million pounds to former Chilean dictator General Pinochet.
FUELLING POVERTY -- BAE is happy to sell weapons systems to African countries such as Tanzania that cannot even afford health or education for their own people. Also, the more weapons are made and supplied to Africa, the worse wars get and the more poverty is fuelled. Weapons can often flow to Africa via 'safe' countries.
ELECTRIC SHOCK TORTURE BATONS -- In 1995 a BAE salesman offered to supply undercover reporters with electroshock weapons. He also claimed that 8,000 electroshock batons had been supplied to Saudi Arabia where systematic torture, including the use of electroshock weapons, has been described by victims of the authorities.
Q - But if we didn't sell them, wouldn't someone else?
A - Supplying weapons to a murderer in British law is called aiding and abbetting. Would you then say 'but if I didn't give him the gun, some one else would'?
A - 'British' arms companies source their components from all around the world, and increasingly is outsourcing its labour. Indeed many of the companies do not even want to be 'British' preferring to be seen as global companies. Hence British Aerospace changing its name to BAE Systems.
A - Of course the arms trade needs regulating globally, and we are campaigning with Amnesty and Oxfam for a global arms trade treaty. However, BAE Systems are lobbying against us.
Q - Don't British arms companies support British Jobs?
A - This is one of the main arguments put forward by those who support the arms trade, but it doesn't add up. According to the governments own figures, there are about 90,000 people employed, directly and indirectly, by the arms trade. Given that the subsidy is around £760m to £1bn per year, this works out at about £9,000 - £11,000 per job! This is an enormous amount of money which would in fact create far more jobs in other, less capital intensive (and risky) sectors such battleing the most important threat of our time - climate change - by developing renewable technology and cleaner transport. A recent MoD/York University report stated that if subsidies were cut by 50%, 49,000 job losses would be offset by 67,000 jobs created in the civil sector.
Another issue is that the number of jobs in the sector is falling all the time anyway. This is partly because companies are moving production lines overseas. In January 2002 for instance, just a few months after BAE Systems announced 1,000 job cuts at its factory in Glasgow, it 'created' 1,000 jobs at a new facility in America. CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) would like to see some of the money spent currently on subsidies redirected into a National Conversion Fund and used to help companies convert to civil production.
Q - Don't our arms exports help to defray the cost of supplying our own armed forces with military equipment?
A - This is the argument that is most often used by the arms companies to justify their subsidies. The reality is that export orders tend to come after the initial investment and often after any orders for the MoD have been filled. This means that any benefits go to the company and do not bring the cost of weapons for our own armed forces down. The government implicitly recognises this by trying to charge a levy to the arms manufacturers on exporters. They have tried to set this levy at 30% but currently only get around 1%.
Q - Surely arms exports are a useful tool of foreign policy -- we can have some control over other nations if they rely on us for weaponry and spare parts. Doesn't that make £760m well spent?
A - A relatively recent example again shows that the reality is a little different. The UK has been one of the most outspoken critics of Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe. Criticism has focused on Zimbabwe's involvement in the awful war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and also the almost casual abuses of human rights in Zimbabwe itself. When Zimbabwe wanted to buy spare parts for its Hawk aircraft -- which have been used in the DRC conflict -- it seemed a perfect opportunity to show our displeasure and to use this foreign policy 'tool' by refusing to export the spares. However, in the teeth of opposition from human rights campaigners and even some members of the Cabinet, the licences were granted in order to protect the reputation of the arms companies as reliable suppliers. In other words rather than being a foreign policy 'tool', arms exports are given such priority that other policy objectives, such as the infamous 'ethical' foreign policy, come a distant second.
Q - Aren't arms sales important for our own security? Don't we need to support an independent 'Defence Industrial Base' which can be relied upon in times of international crisis?
A - It seems likely that the UK will soon follow George W. Bush into war with Syria. In that case, it does not make sense that we are selling arms to Syria. Indeed on many occasions in the past, UK made arms have been used against us, the Belgrano for instance. And let us not forget who it was that sold Saddam Hussein many of his weapons!
Letter to the Guardian Friday October 6, 2006 from UK church leaders
As leaders of Christian communities in the UK, we cannot help but listen and respond to the increasing cry from around the world of those caught up in armed conflict (Reports, October 3). Christian communities around the world urge us to do what we can to stop the flooding of their countries with weapons, arguing that the continued push of arms to their countries undermines the vital work of building peace and security.
The disappointing outcome of the UN small arms review conference over the summer and the difficulty of getting international agreement to regulate the arms trade makes it all the more important to ensure that we act to stop the weaponry at source. Through the Defence Export Services Organisation, the Ministry of Defence unit that for 40 years has helped UK companies sell their military equipment and services overseas, British taxpayers subsidise the export of arms into areas of conflict and to governments that abuse human rights.
In recent years, our Churches have made clear statements on the evils of the arms trade, offering other visions for peace and security. We are currently in the middle of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence and the United Nations' Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World and we believe that this is an opportune moment to begin a process which will lead to real change. In particular, we call on the UK government to close the Defence Export Services Organisation and not to transfer its functions elsewhere in the public sector, or to allocate public funds to enable them to be undertaken in the private sector.
Rev Graham Carter, President, Methodist Conference, Rev Kate Coleman President, Baptist Union Rt Rev Richard Inwood Bishop of Bedford, Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster And 11 others
An excellent set of well researched country studies are available at
There is so much on corruption in BAE that I cannot copy and paste all the stories. Countless directors have been arrested and investigated. Handily, the anti-corruption group UNICORN have gathered them together. See: