Christian Aid is calling out Britain as complicit in the war in Yemen, in direct violation of its own international commitments to regulate its arms exports to states acting illegally and repressively.
And it stresses in the new report, Resourcing war and peace: time to address the UK Government’s double standards, that the UK currently spends about £37bn on its military, or nearly £600 per person per year – in effect spending three times the amount on the military that it spends on aid.
The warnings and conclusions form part of a major new report on peacebuilding to coincide with Christian Aid’s Christmas peacemakers appeal, and alongside campaign by Christian Aid supporters who are sending Christmas cards to the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, echoing the demand that the UK immediately ceases to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition.
This increasingly casts a shadow on the UK Government’s attempts to profile itself as a values-based international actor committed to tackling global conflict. Germany, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark (future exports only) and Finland have all suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Canada may follow suit soon. The US Senate has also provoked debate on ongoing support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The people of Yemen have been crying out for peace, and the conclusion of the current round of UN-sponsored talks are an important step towards peace. The agreement to a ceasefire in Hodeihdah should at long last allow urgent life-saving aid to get to the millions of people in need, aid which has been cruelly blocked by an international coalition. We pray earnestly for greater progress at the next round of talks in January and an end to this brutal conflict.
However the continued international military intervention in the Yemeni conflict is undermining the prospect of a lasting peace. To allow future peace talks to thrive, the continued arms exports and military technical support to the international coalition must stop immediately.
Meanwhile, this is a crucial moment for the UK as it looks to redefine its relationship with the European Union and the wider world. There is much to celebrate about the UK’s role in aid and development, committing to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for aid and 50% of its aid budget to conflict affected states. Yet the UK is on track to be one of the world’s biggest arms dealers – fuelling war instead of peace.
Over the last five years, the UK has sold over two-thirds of its major arms exports to Gulf Arab States, with Saudi Arabia alone accounting for 49% of all such exports.
Karol Balfe, who leads on Christian Aid’s global peacebuilding programme, said: “No other arms exporter comes close to this dependence on the Gulf market. In turn, this means that the Royal Saudi Air Force is hugely dependent on British-made aircraft and missiles – maintained and supported in-country by British military and civilian technicians for its own operations.
“The UK Government risks putting its own perceived national security and domestic interests ahead of human security and protection of those living in conflict. In our work, we see that local actors make a huge difference in turning the tide of violence.
“We are heartened to see that the British public is with us on this. With 61% believing these arms sales to Saudi Arabia should stop, we are calling out the UK Government’s immoral policy of arms exports to repressive regimes.”
Rowan Williams, Christian Aid’s chair and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said:“We can’t pretend that British involvement in war is a thing of the past. We may not have experienced the direct effects of war in this country for a lifetime, and we can be thankful for that; but our overseas policies are still helping to support violence and injustice elsewhere in the world, among those least able to defend themselves.
“The scale of the humanitarian catastrophe that has overtaken Yemen is one of the most dramatic instances. 14 million people are on the brink of famine, as a result of a war that continues to claim the lives of countless civilians. And this is a war in which the government of the UK is directly complicit: arms sales from this country to Saudi Arabia have increased by two thirds since 2016 and now account for nearly half of Britain’s major arms exports.
“Sustainable development needs political security and the rule of law; it means people having a safe place to call home, security of food supplies and guaranteed access to medical and educational services. Without these things, any talk of security is going to be empty and meaningless – at best a sticking-plaster, at worst something that contributes to worsening our shared insecurity.
"Is the UK prepared to take a new lead in peacemaking by promoting and championing human rights and international law in settings of extreme and indiscriminate violence? This Christmas, we are challenging our country and our government to take a long and critical look at its record and to find the courage to become a leader in conflict resolution and peacebuilding by way of society-building. We know that the vast majority of this country’s citizens want to see an end to arms sales to countries engaged in wholesale slaughter; and a similar majority wants to see our development programmes guided by the needs of people on the ground rather than security priorities alone. We are urging our government to listen to these voices and to act.”
The report adds that:
In 2017 the world spent an estimated $1.74tn dollars on weapons and its military. That is $231 for every man, woman and child. Last year saw the first real terms increase in global military spending since the end of the US occupation of Iraq in 2011. If the trend continues as expected this year, the figure is likely to exceed $1.8tn, the highest it has ever been.1
Around two billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. These countries typically have the highest poverty rates and are often seemingly trapped in endless cycles of violence and conflict. Human development cannot be achieved without tackling violence and building peace. People who do not have a safe place to call home, reliable access to food and an income because of violence, cannot plan for the future.
The failure to address violence and conflict has immense consequences on the world today. In 2017, estimates showed that up to $14.76tn was lost to the global economy.xii. The impact of human rights violations in these contexts of violence is immeasurable on people’s lives.
Among the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are that wars, once started, are difficult to end, and their devastation precipitates further insecurity and violence. As these wars have consumed lives, resources, and political attention, the underlying drivers of our contemporary insecurity have persisted largely unchecked, particularly economic inequality, climate change and the political marginalisation of disaffected populations.
This Christmas, Christian Aid calls on the UK Government to be a peacemaker by:
Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and other states which are violating international law, in breach of our own international commitments, including those to regulate the arms trade.
The UK Government, along with other governments across the globe, should commit to significantly more spending on peace and less on militarisation.
While the UK has in many ways led global efforts to respond to conflict, it needs a clear vision of peacebuilding, putting those living in conflict, in particular, local peace actors, at the heart of its approach.
This briefing was written by Christian Aid with research and data compiled by Richard Reeve and Oscar Larsson of Oxford Research Group’s Sustainable Security Programme. Its conclusion and recommendations are those of Christian Aid.
NOTES TO EDITORS
ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org). This commits us to the highest standards of transparency. To view Christian Aid's ComRes poll, visit: www.comresglobal.com/polls/christian-aid-peacebuilding-poll/
Please credit Christian Aid if using the image of Rowan Williams (standing outside the Ministry of Defence).