The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has since 1974 worked tirelessly to end UK arms exports. CAAT has increased public awareness of the arms trade, and through relentless advocacy has helped to restrain UK export subsidies to arms companies, and pressured institutions into disinvesting from arms exporters. CAAT has exposed the corruption, hypocrisy and lethal consequences around this trade and has been instrumental in holding the UK government and arms companies to account for the same. In particular, it has placed BAE Systems, one of the world's largest arms companies, under unprecedented scrutiny over its unethical practices.
History and objectives
Founded by a broad and diverse coalition of peace groups concerned about the growth of the arms trade following the Middle East war of 1973, CAAT's main focus is to end the influence of arms companies over the UK government, a principal exporter of weapons, and it works together with similar organisations in other countries to raise international awareness.
In seeking to end the arms trade, CAAT's priorities are:
1. To stop the procurement or export of arms where they might
-exacerbate conflict, support aggression, or increase tension
-support an oppressive regime or undermine democracy
-threaten social welfare through the level of military spending
2. To end all government, political and financial support for arms exports, and
3. To promote progressive demilitarisation within arms-producing countries.
CAAT considers that security needs to be seen in much broader terms that are not dominated by military and arms company interests. A wider security policy would have the opportunity to reallocate resources according to actual threats and benefits, including addressing major causes of insecurity such as inequality and climate change.
Based in North London, CAAT operates a non-hierarchical structure amongst its 9 paid staff, and its apex decision-making body is a Steering Committee elected by its members. It is supported in its work by a large number of volunteer activists, and assisted by its Christian Network and Universities Network.
Challenging BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia arms deal
In September 1985, BAE was a signatory to the UK's largest ever arms deal, the Al Yamamah contract to provide military planes as well as servicing provisions to the government of Saudi Arabia. Rumours of corruption soon surfaced, and allegations of corruption have been a recurrent feature in subsequent arms deals to Saudi Arabia throughout the last two decades. In 2004, following revelations about a £60 million "slush fund" and allegations that the BAE, with approval of the UK Government, had made payments worth hundreds of millions of pounds since 1985 to Saudi personal bank accounts, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began an investigation. CAAT, in conjunction with Corner House, an anti-corruption NGO, mounted a legal challenge after the SFO decided to end its investigation in December 2006 under pressure from the UK government.
On 10th April 2007, the High Court in London concluded that the SFO had indeed acted illegally in stopping its corruption investigation. On 30th July, however, the House of Lords overturned the High Court's ruling, and decreed that the SFO had acted lawfully in the interest of national security.
While BAE escaped serious legal sanction, CAAT's work highlighted the morally questionable nature of the practices of both BAE and the UK Government, and subjected the arms industry to greater public scrutiny.
Hampering subsidies to arms companies
The Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) provides loan guarantees to UK exporters, both civil and military. From the 1970s onwards, the ECGD insured exports of Hawk aircraft, Scorpion tanks and other military equipment to the brutal dictatorship of General Suharto in Indonesia. Evidence shows that this equipment was used against the civilian population, including during the vicious attacks on East Timor.
CAAT has campaigned for years to end government subsidy of arms exports. ECGD subsidies to the defence sector, which constituted 57% of all ECGD subsidies given in 2007-2008, amounted to only 1% of subsidies in 2011-2012. It is clear that CAAT's actions have helped to restrain the government subsidy available to arms companies to export their products.
Opposing Arms Fairs
Arms Fairs are trade exhibitions for the military industry and an important part of the international arms trade. The UK's largest arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi), takes place in London every second year. Arms Fairs allow the weapons manufacturers to promote their products to potential customers, including regimes in conflict and those with terrible human rights records.
After years of innovative and effective 'naming and shaming' campaigns led by CAAT, Reed-Elsevier, the multinational company that owned the arms fair, pulled out of hosting it in 2007. CAAT now focuses on shaming the UK government and the present owners, Clarion Events.
Promoting ethical investment and opposing unethical sponsorships
From universities to local authorities, CAAT has consistently sought to highlight areas where bodies with ethical aspirations hold shares in companies trading in arms. CAAT's Clean Investment campaign has had many past successes, one of the most significant occurring in 2001. In response to pressure from the CAAT Christian Network, the Church of England redefined its investment criteria and confirmed it would no longer invest in arms companies. Further, CAAT's Universities Network's effective campaigns resulted in the University of St. Andrews adopting an ethical investment policy and University College London creating an ethical investment committee that reviews all investments.
In October 2012, following a campaign by CAAT to 'Disarm the Gallery', the National Gallery's long-standing sponsorship arrangement with weapons manufacturer Finmeccanica got terminated one year early. Under the arrangement, the Gallery had hosted receptions for international arms fairs.
Tracking UK arms exports and fostering transparency
CAAT uses the Freedom of Information Act to procure the details of government officials' meetings with representatives of arms companies. In a further effort to bring a modicum of transparency to a sector cloaked in secrecy, CAAT recently launched an easy to use web application that allows the media and public to scrutinise all arms export licenses granted by the UK government and hopes to extend this to the rest of the EU.
Exposing the UK government's hypocrisy during the 'Arab Spring'
In 2011, authoritarian regimes in Libya and Bahrain used UK weapons to suppress demonstrations by their own citizens. While the British Government spoke out against this, Prime Minister David Cameron simultaneously toured the Middle East with eight arms companies hoping to sell their weapons. CAAT highlighted the hypocrisy and succeeded in making arms exports a mainstream issue which politicians can now no longer ignore, with a Sunday Times poll showing 74% of the public to be opposed to government support of such arms sales.
Campaign Against Arms Trade works with other organisations concerned with arms sales, particularly in Europe through the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT). Alongside the UK, both Germany and France regularly appear in the global top 5 arms exporters' list. Arms sales are not limited to the largest European states, however. The Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Switzerland are significant exporters, and Sweden was ranked as having the highest arms export sales per capita in the world in 2011. In 2011-12 ENAAT research analysed and compared EU arms exports. CAAT and ENAAT also work with campaigners beyond Europe, including those in South Africa and the United States.
Campaign Against Arms Trade
5-7 Wells Terrace
London N4 3JU
Phone: +44 20 7281 02 97