The Real Issue about Arms for Iraq


The Scott Report has turned out to be a disappointment to all those who thought that it would reveal anything important about Government lies. But what did they really expect? Did they seriously think that the state would appoint an inquiry that actually told the truth? Sir Richard Scott may like cycling but his main task was to peddle the idea that, despite the odd bad character, British Democracy is “the best you can get” (Scott’s main previous claim to upper class solidarity was his injunction preventing South Wales miners shouting at scabs in 1984-5!).

Scott might have revealed how the British state was so ruthless that it was even prepared to send its own spies to gaol to cover up its dirty tricks in the arms trade but the whole debate has been a deliberate smokescreen. Whilst we have had our attention directed to what the Government did or did not say in Parliament the economic crisis is daily devastating the lives of more and more workers. The issue of which bourgeois political party is more corrupt than the other ignores the far bigger problem that we are living in one of the longest economic crises in the history of world capitalism. Even the Financial Times is currently admitting that there has been no real growth since 1972.

What the Scott fiasco only touched on is the crucial importance of the arms trade to world imperialism. Since the Collapse of the USSR, arms sales have become one of the main areas of rivalry in the global trade. Despite condemning Saddam as “a Hitler” the West had been arming him for over a decade. The poison gas used in the Iran-Iraq War, in the Gulf War and against Kurdish civilians in Halabja came mainly from Western Europe. The financial cost of the Iran-Iraq War put Iraq massively into debt. We now know that Iraq was only three months away from total collapse when it attacked Kuwait. Saddam had first demanded $10 billions from the Kuwaiti regime before the desperate decision to attack in 1990.

The Gulf War, and its aftermath, gave the USA an enormous advantage over its former allies as it increased its share of world trade in arms from 35% in 1990 to 55% in 1995. It also has controlled which of its “allies” benefits too. Germany, currently closer to the United States on most issues, has gained most with increased sales from 5.4% to 14.6% in 1995. The UK and France, at odds with the USA in Bosnia, have been less successful. French arms sales have actually fallen by a half to about 3.2% of the world total whilst the British, thanks to their loyal support of the US in the Gulf War modestly rose from about 5 to 7.3%. Much of this was a deal for £2.3 billions by Vickers, British Aerospace and GKN with Saudi Arabia. It is obviously no accident that a Saudi Islamic Fundamentalist who sends faxes from London was forced to shut up by Major’s Government and is threatened with deportation to the Caribbean island of Dominica (where Saudi hit squads will do the rest).

Currently the race is on to supply the United Arab Emirates with 80 long-range strike aircraft for £4 billions. French Mirage 2000-5s, British Tornadoes and US F-16s are all competing, with Heads of State (including Clinton) phoning up the Sheikh Sayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan to persuade him to take their toys. In the last twenty years $600 billion dollars has been spent on arms by Middle Eastern states. And the real point of these deals is that the buyers are really buying Western political and military support for their regimes against both internal and external enemies. It is no accident that the squalidly brutal Gulf regimes (like Bahrain and the UAE) have British advisors on torture methods for their secret police. As The Guardian put it.

Adding 80 state of the art warplanes to the 97 the UAE possesses but cannot properly fly, will be useless. Buyer and seller will, in effect, admit that. For that is the real meaning of the defence pacts that go with such deals. The more the UAE buys, the readier the seller must be to come to its defence.


In short the arms sales are part of the creation of zones of imperialist competition. Those who thought that the world was a safer place after the Cold War ended need to look again. The old alliances are slowly unravelling, as the article in this issue on Ireland further underlines. We may have some time yet before the next major war but it is capitalism’s soly “solution” to its economic crisis. The working class will have to use this time well...

Friday, March 1, 1996

Revolutionary Perspectives

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