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UK arms sales to Middle East include tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya

17 February, 2011
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As protests against authoritarian regimes across the Middle East are met with violent repression, Campaign Against Arms Trade highlights the UK’s role in arming the regimes.

The UK Government has approved the sale of tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya in the last year. Sales to these countries have been promoted by the UK government arms promotion unit UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO).

This weekend, the UK arms industry will attend a major arms fair, IDEX, in the Middle East, a ‘priority market’ for the UK. UKTI DSO will be exhibiting and UK arms industry trade body A|D|S boasts that 10% of exhibitors will be UK businesses and organisations.



  • In 2010, equipment approved for export included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns. No requests for licences were refused.
  • UKTI DSO has listed Bahrain as a key market for UK arms exports.
  • Bahrain was invited to attend the UK arms fairs: the Farnborough Airshow in 2010 and Defence and Security Equipment International in 2009. UKTI DSO supported the Bahrain International Airshow 2010, where it organised an outdoor event.
  • UK armed forces have been used in support of sales efforts, demonstrating arms to the Royal Bahrain Artillery.


  • In the third quarter of 2010 (the most recent period for which figures are available), equipment approved for export included wall and door breaching projectile launchers, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition, training tear gas/irritant ammunition. Ammunition comprised £3.2m of the £4.7m million of military items licensed.
  • Sniper rifles were among the other equipment licensed in 2010. No requests for licences were refused in 2010.
  • Libya is a UKTI/DSO priority market country, and the UK has made ‘high level political interventions’ in support of arms sales to Libya.
  • Libya was also invited to attend the UK arms fairs: the Farnborough Airshow in 2010 and Defence and Security Equipment International in 2009.
  • The UK had by far the largest pavilion at Libya’s arms fair LibDex in 2010, and was supported by a team from UKTI DSO.

Other licences approved for the region in 2010 include


In the third quarter of 2010: Combat helicopters and military utility helicopters (Helicopter licences were worth £269 million) and technology for the production of corvettes. Algeria is a priority market for UKTI DSO. This week UKTI is offering advice sessions for companies that wish to export to the country.


In 2010: components for all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection; military communications equipment; optical target surveillance equipment; components for armoured personnel carriers; components for semi-automatic pistols; and components for submachine guns.

Saudi Arabia

In 2010: armoured personnel carriers, ground vehicle military communications equipment, sniper rifles; small arms ammunition; weapon sights and in 2009: CS hand grenades, tear gas/irritant ammunition and tear gas/riot control agents.

Sarah Waldron Campaigns Coordinator at CAAT said:

“Government ministers claim they wish to support open and democratic societies in the Middle East but at the same time are aiding authoritarian regimes and providing the tools for repression. They don’t just approve the sale of this equipment – they actively promote it.”

“There should be an immediate arms embargo – but more importantly we should be asking why these exports were ever licensed in the first place.”


For further information or an interview please contact CAAT’s Campaigns Coordinator, Sarah Waldron on 020 7281 0297 or mobile 07990 673 232 or email

1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. Around 80% of CAAT’s income is raised from individual supporters.

2. Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia are all classed as authoritarian regimes according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy 2008.

3. The International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) is the largest defence and security event in the Middle East and North African region, taking place from Sunday 20th – Thursday 24th February, in Abu Dhabi, UAE. UK Trade organisation Aerospace|Defence|Security will be attending to “continue its promotion of the UK defence and security industry’s interests in the UAE and Middle East.”

4. UK Trade and Investment has approximately 130 staff to support 34 industry sectors. In 2008, it opened the Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) to promote arms exports. UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms. Peter Luff, Defence Equipment Minister, has said: “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 has also been upfront about his involvement in promoting BAE products to the rest of the world.

5. See CAAT’s summary of UK arms exports and promotion. Approved UK arms export licences are taken from government figures for Strategic Export Controls. CAAT has compiled a calendar of UKTI DSO arms promotion activity. CAAT publishes the results of Freedom of Information requests related to UK arms promotion.

6. CAAT’s new campaign “This is NOT OK” challenges the government’s assertion it has a responsible arms export policy. The campaign focuses on the support provided by the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government organisation responsible for promoting arms exports and organising and inviting foreign government delegations to UK arms fairs.

7. CAAT’s campaign also targets Clarion Events, the private company that owns and organises international arms fairs, including DSEi, Defence and Security Equipment International, the biennial London arms fair. Clarion Events also owns events such as the Baby Show, taking place this weekend at the ExCeL Centre in East London (the venue for DSEI later in the year).

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