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THERESA MAY’S concern for the plight of embattled civilians appears conditioned by which armed forces threaten their wellbeing and which state supplies the weaponry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has it within his own hands to be able to actually say to the Assad regime that enough is enough in Aleppo,” she told the Commons yesterday. But when Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson asked May why her government continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, which has slaughtered thousands of Yemenis in air raids, it was a case of “do as I say not as I do.”
She claimed that Britain constantly raises human rights issues in meetings with the Saudi head-choppers.
But her reply degenerated rapidly into a string of excuses to justify the lucrative sale of weaponry to tyrannical kingdoms and sheikhdoms in the Gulf region.
“The intervention in Yemen is a UN-backed intervention,” she declared as though this absolves Riyadh and its arms-suppliers of war crimes.
To this she added concern for Gulf “security” and the importance of intelligence supplied by Saudi Arabia to assist counter-terrorism work in Britain that “has saved potentially hundreds of lives here.”
The clear implication is that, were Britain to accept the recommendation of two parliamentary committees and to answer calls from human rights bodies to restrict supplies of munitions to Riyadh, bilateral intelligence exchanges would be ended.
Why then has there been no break in US-Saudi intelligence links after Washington cancelled a contract to sell precision-guided munitions built by US arms firm Raytheon?
“This reflects our continued, strong concerns with the flaws in the coalition’s targeting practices and overall prosecution of the air campaign in Yemen,” the Obama administration said.
The White House did not make this decision through choice, however, having come under sustained pressure from inside and outside Congress.
The Tory government faces some parliamentary opposition alongside principled campaigning by anti-arms-trade activists.
But it is comforted by backing received from Blairite remnants on Labour’s benches committed both to arms sales and overseas military adventures.
One of the most nauseating aspects of the Tuesday afternoon emergency debate on Syria was to witness Labour MPs feigning concern for civilians while berating former Labour leader Ed Miiband for his role in spiking Tory plans to do jihadi extremists’ work for them by bombing Damascus government forces.
Easy recourse to war, either because of old-fashioned “send-a-gunboat” imperial attitudes or an up to the minute “humanitarian intervention” frame of mind underpins ongoing regional crises.
Latter-day colonialist notions that “we” have a responsibility to “do something,” which translates generally into “bomb someone,” benefit mainly arms manufacturers and suppliers.
Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) calculates that Britain licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms sales to Riyadh during the first 12 months of the Yemen war.
According to Houthi rebel government leader Abdulaziz bin Habtour, these include cruise missiles and cluster bombs, despite Britain having ratified the international convention banning use and stockpiling of this munition.
Very profitable for the masters of war, but the physical cost is paid by Yemeni civilians, at least 4,000 of whom have been killed, 60 per cent of them at the hands of the Saudi interventionist force.
Yemeni lives should not be set as bargaining counters against Syrians. Both are equally precious and threatened. But the onus is on the British government to act where it can be most effective and that must be in halting the sale of armaments to the Saudi autocracy.
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