The Syrian conflict | Salisbury | 31 Aug 2013 | Amnesty International UK

The Syrian conflict

 

Western arms companies helped create the situation in Syria which we now so much deplore. 

Syria is in the news at the moment with countries around the world considering their responses to the allegations that Syria has used chemical weapons against its own people.  The House of Commons delivered a surprise and welcome defeat to the Government last week and reflects deep unease among back benchers about the level of evidence, the nature of any intervention and the unforeseen consequences. 

What has been lost in the debate is how it is that Syria has the amount and sophistication of weaponry at its disposal.  In all the conflicts we see around the world, both sides are usually armed to the teeth, not with battered old weapons left over from some ancient conflict, but rather the very latest in modern day equipment. 

One of the paradoxes of the last few days is listening to various world leaders saying how atrocious it is the President Assad is using sarin, or some other nerve agent, on his own people.  These leaders are for the most part members of the UN Security Council the permanent members of which are the USA, UK; France, the Russian Federation and China.  A ‘red line has been crossed’ says President Obama as America lines up its navy and air force for some kind of strike on Syria. 

But who, might one ask are the countries who supply the bulk of the weaponry that we see the results of on our screens each evening?  The leading arms supplying countries are, with one exception, the same as the UN Security Council.  The exception is Germany which isn’t on it. 

It is therefore anomalous at least for these presidents and prime ministers to be waxing indignant at the death, misery and destruction that is happening in Syria.  We are happy to host arms fairs and our ministers and prime minister lead missions to sell arms to countries around the world some of which will be used on their own people and which have questionable human rights records.  Bahrain is a classic recent example. 

Indeed it was only in July that Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls was raising concerns at the scale of arms exports to some of the world more doubtful regimes including specifically, Syria.  They were even querying the supply of a chemical which could be used for the production of chemical weapons. 

Of course the major supplier to Syria has been and still is, Russia.  But we and the other western countries have been eager to sell to them in the past. 

It is hypocritical to be seeking permission to bomb Syria when we as a country, as well as others, have been keen suppliers of weaponry because it is good for business.  It is the arms trade which needs attention and where much tighter controls are needed. 

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