Libya: Arms and Duplicity

By Felicity Arbuthnot – London

‘The assessment is that we have taken out 30 percent of the military capacity of Gaddafi.’ (Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, senior NATO staff officer, 5th April 2011.)

On 29th March, freshly back from a good will tour of the Middle East, with a bunch of arms salesmen in tow, as bombs rained down on Libya, Prime Minister David Cameron, welcomed Foreign Ministers from more than forty countries to a London Conference: "To help the Libyan people in their hour of need."

Since the 110 Tomahawk Cruise missiles had pulverized the country in just the first twenty four hours of the start of bombing on 19th., March, had been declared by America’s Nobel Laureate President: "only the first phase", they surely needed it. The Libyan people, said Cameron must be "free from violence …" Indeed. Our actions were: "… saving lives." The Prime Minister has clearly never been in the proximity of a Cruise missile.

And of course, when the damage we are not inflicting is over, and the pieces of the lives we have "saved" have been collected, buried and air brushed from history, Britain will be there, to: "Repair the hospitals … rebuild the homes … restore the Mosques and minarets … repair the physical infrastructure … it’s never too early to start planning .."

The tills are already ringing up, the contracts being divvied out, in the new Great Game. Destroy all, then award yourselves that billion$ bonanza: "humanitarian assistance", move in, grab the assets, take over. "Mission accomplished."

Stomach churning hypocrisy aside, there was a herd of elephants in the magnificent gilded conference hall at Lancaster House in central London. In 2010 Cameron’s Coalition government approved sales to Libya including tear gas, crowd control ammunition and sniper rifles. "Qaddafi is using snipers .." to shoot people, Cameron told the delegates. The previous government’s sales included water cannons and armoured cars.

A government unit of approximately 160 staff, the UK., Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) promote arms sales. "Libya was designated one of its ‘Priority Markets’, where promotional activities" were, until extremely recently, "focused." Little over five months ago (November 2010) UKTI DSO staff attended the Libyan Defence and Security Exhibition (LibDex) at Mitiga Airport, Tripoli, and co-organised a UK presence. "Over half the exhibitors were UK companies." LibDex even have offices in North London.  The previous July, Libya received an official invitation from the UK., government to attend the Farnborough Air Show, a showcase for killer aircraft, and "weapons, weapons systems, defence systems and equipment." Farnborough was: "a spectacular success for business with US$47 billion worth of orders announced during the trade week."

In 2009: "UKTI officials stationed in Libya", invited Libya to the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair in London in September, met Libyan officials at LibDex in October and had two meetings with Libyan officials in London, in November. DSEi is: "the world’s largest arms fair."

The previous year: "The head of UKTI DSO, told an arms industry conference that there had been: "high level political interventions, in Libya in support of arms sales efforts." There were also frequent meetings: "with Libyan officials in unrecorded session, to talk about defence and security equipment, co-operation and training issues." The year’s grand total for the European Union as a whole, was three hundred and forty three million Euros of weapons to Libya.

An eighty five million£ deal, which the British government was instrumental in securing was for a communications system for Libya’s tanks: "the initiative was developed ‘with the full help and guidance’ of the UK government’s arms promotion unit."

Discussions had begun at the giant International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi in the February of 2008, and were followed up by a sales campaign co-ordinated by the British Embassay in Tripoli. The same Embassy which was closed on February 26th, with the Ambassador, Richard Northern, scurrying out of the country ahead of the bombs, just as the Ambassador to Baghdad did before him, in 1991.

"The tanks are now being bombed by UK forces", points out the UK., based Campaign Against the Arms Trade. (CAAT)

The British government’s approach to arms sales is, to say the least, robust. Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister puts it thus: "There will be a very, very, very heavy Ministerial commitment (to arms sales.) There is a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There is no such embarrassment in this government.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is equally trenchant in promoting British Aerospace’s lethality around the globe.

International Security Strategy Minister, Gerald Howarth said, last November: "We are proud to support the biggest defence exports drive in decades."

Sarah Waldron of CAAT commented succinctly: "The staunch upholding of human rights and weapons sales are irreconcilable."

On 2nd April, Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, the country’s most senior Catholic clergyman, talked reality: "If the purpose (of bombing) is to defend civilian life, they are destroying it." Homes, hospitals, infrastructure and life were being destroyed.

"Today", he said: "there were more than fifty (spontaneous) abortions (i.e., miscarriages) in a hospital in Tripoli, due to the trauma of the war."

Front line foetuses. How low can humanity sink?

– Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist and activist who has visited the Arab and Muslim world on numerous occasions. She has written and broadcast on Iraq, her coverage of which was nominated for several awards. She was also senior researcher for John Pilger’s award-winning documentary, "Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq". She contributed this article to

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