UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has called missiles producer MBDA, known for controversial arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Libya’s Gaddafi government, a “role model” of cooperation, while unveiling multimillion deals between the firm and the UK government.
Addressing MBDA’s staffers in Stevenage on Friday, Michael Fallon praised it for building “a great reputation” supplying British armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, thanking the company for “sterling service.”
Speaking about the effect which Brexit may have on the UK’s position in the world, Fallon assured that it is “going to become an even more global country, reaching out to our friends and allies across the world,” citing extensive cooperation between multinational MBDA, which has offices in UK, France, Italy, Germany and US, as an example.
“You are a role model here for the kind of partnerships we’ll be seeking in future: for our defense, for our manufacturing, and for our country,” he said, as cited by the Independent.
MBDA, which is jointly owned by BAE Systems, the UK’s largest defense company, Airbus and Italian aerospace defense and security firm Leonardo, is actively engaged in arming the Saudi Air Force with lethal weaponry, including Shadow long-range cruise missiles and Brimstone air-to-surface missiles.
Responding to Parliamentary question in September last year, Fallon confirmed that among UK-supplied weapons, used in war-ravaged Yemen since January 2015, were the MBDA-produced missiles along with Paveway guided bombs, as well as PGM500 and ALARM anti-radiation missiles.
While the airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition, which wages a campaign in support of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government against Houthi rebels, have been named by the United Nations to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in the country since the start of the raids in March 2015, the UK government keeps selling arms to Riyadh.
Right groups have been calling on arms manufacturers to stop supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition, saying that makes them complicit in possible war crimes on the Yemeni soil.
“We clearly recommend that the United States, the United Kingdom, France and others should suspend all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until they curtail their unlawful airstrikes in Yemen and until also a credible investigation is conducted about those violations,” Ahmed Benchemsi, communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch’s Middle East & North Africa, told Eyes On Events in March.
READ MORE: ‘No legitimate military objectives’: UN panel finds Saudi strikes in Yemen may amount to war crimes
In January, Fallon was forced to confirm that outlawed cluster bombs, made in the UK and exported to Saudi Arabia in late 1980s, were being dropped by Saudi warplanes in Yemen. Following the revelations, Riyadh announced it was halting the use of those munitions after almost two years into the conflict.
As the pressure mounts for the UK to curb multi-million arms sales, Fallon defended the decision to procced with supplying the Gulf country with deadly weapons on Friday, refusing to admit that it was a mistake in the first place to authorize the shipments.
“Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself. It’s being attacked by Houthi missiles over its southern border and is also attempting to restore the legitimate government of Yemen,” Fallon said in an interview to the Independent, claiming that all export applications from Saudi Arabia are thoroughly examined.
Moreover, he appeared to encourage BAE in their bid to boost arm sales to the Kingdom: “Are we supporting them? Absolutely. It’s something ministers have been pressing with the Saudi government for a number of years now,” he said, referring to the company’s plans to land a new arms contract with the Saudi government.
MBDA has become previously known for striking a £200 million controversial missile deal on Milan anti-tank missiles and communications systems with late Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2007. After Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011, the same MBDA-made munitions were reported to be supplied to rebels allegedly from Qatar while Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles were found to be used by the UK and French forces there.
UK ‘central to Yemeni humanitarian catastrophe from day one’
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), believes that the UK arms supplies to Saudi Arabia have contributed greatly to the dire humanitarian situation in war-raged Yemen.
“We are seeing Saudi Arabia and others creating a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and UK arms have been central to that humanitarian catastrophe from day one,” Smith told Eyes On Events, arguing that MBDA was “absolutely not a role model” and “should be condemned outright” for its role in war conflicts.
MBDA’s arm trade during the Libyan conflict was purely guided by material gain, Smith said, adding that it was “more than happy to make a lot of profit out of arming Colonel Gaddafi” and “was profiting directly” from arming both sides of the Libyan war. He added that after Brexit, the UK will “continue to sell weapons to dictatorships and human rights abusers.”
READ MORE: Britain admits selling 500 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, some used in Yemen
Steve Topple, independent journalist and political and social commentator, told Eyes On Events he expects the controversial arms sales by the UK to only jump up as soon as it leaves the EU with its tight regulations on weapons export.
“This is only going to get worse now that we are leaving the European Union,” Topple said.
Topple also cited the data from "Freedom in the world" investigation by Freedom House that has found that the UK sold weapons to 22 of 30 countries on its own human rights watch list.
UK-based BAE, which on par with Airbus hold 37.5 percent of MBDA’s shares is “inherently complicit in war crimes” for its sales of Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia “which have been linked to over 600 death of children,” Topple argued, adding that the upcoming early elections have additionally distracted the government from even addressing the issue.
“The Conservative government seems to just ignore it,” he said.
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