The Independent View: Arms deals with India – why Lib Dems should say no

PM Cameron’s heavyweight government plus business trip to India went swimmingly, so we are to believe, despite that diplomatic faux pas about Pakistani support for terrorism and Indian discontent about proposed immigration quotas. One fortunate outcome for Mr Cameron was that both issues diverted attention from a highly contentious arms deal involving arms giant BAE.

Under the deal, 57 Hawk jets will be manufactured under licence in India with BAE’s Indian partner, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), with technical support from BAE. Roll-Royce also gets a slice of the deal as its jet engines will be used in production. The deal is supposedly worth £700 million to the UK.

I say supposedly because the arms business is rather different from selling widgets. It is dominated by a few giant international companies, with BAE Systems by far the largest in the UK. Today, despite its assiduous media management, BAE is as well known for its entanglement with the law as its manuifacturing capabilities.

Arms companies, and especially BAE, have extraordinary access to government decision making, both at the Ministry of Defence, and at No 10. Since 2008, this influence has been slightly lessoned with the removal of the government arms sales unit from the Ministry of Defence to UK Trade & Investment where it was reconstituted as the Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO). There it continues its prolifigate ways, with 160 staff dedicated to the arms industry compared to just 142 staff for the other 34 industry sectors.

Arms companies also have a bevy of MPs prepared to speak for them in the House and in the media. Some represent constituencies where arms companies are located and present themselves as supporters of jobs which would be lost if the UK stopped arms exports. There are a few areas, notably around Preston, Hull and Yeovil, where arms exporters are large employers, but in most areas the numbers are neglible. Nationally only 0.2% of jobs are arms export jobs.

So what jobs will the India deal create? The answer is either none or very few. After all, the planes are being manufactured in India. The deal will supposedly “protect” around 200 jobs in BAE’s Brough plant, near Hull. For a £700 million deal that works out at £3.5 million per job. How can this be either economic or fair?

Will India benefit? No doubt the deal will bring some jobs to the assembly lines of HAL’s Bangalore plant but as a highly capital intensive industry, the numbers are limited to the already skilled and the multipler effects are low. India does desperately need more jobs, especially in smaller cities and rural areas, but the arms industry will not provide them.

Since 1947 India has been involved in four wars against Pakistan and armed conflict with China. India is also involved in internal conflicts, including Kashmir, and has a dubious record on human rights. How will building Hawk jets support peace efforts within India and the region? Will it not just further encourage an arms race with Pakistan, a country which, lacking India’s strong democratic tradions and institutions, is in an even more parlous situation.

The Liberal Democrats have tradionally been more critical than the other main parties on arms exports, whether on grounds of economics or ethics. Writing in the Daily Mail on 19 July 2009 Vince Cable said:… ” billions have been wasted on the Eurofighter – which was designed for the Cold War and is largely iirrelevant.” But just over a year later on 28 July he said: “I am pleased that the Indian Government is considering the Eurofighter Typhoon for its medium multi-role combat aircraft. This bid has the full backing of the UK Government.”

It is sad to see that, as a coalition partner, when it comes to selling weapons worldwide the Lib Dems appear to be equally in thrall to the supposed benefits brought by the arms industry. I look forward to hearing concerned Lib Dems speak up on these issues at the September Conference.

Kaye Stearman Media Co-ordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • What a strange article with very confused logic. The author says that the deal is ‘supposedly’ worth £700m to the UK and then goes on the talk about how many jobs are being saved. She says :
    “The deal will supposedly “protect” around 200 jobs in BAE’s Brough plant, near Hull. For a £700 million deal that works out at £3.5 million per job. How can this be either economic or fair?”
    What does this mean? Does she think it is a public subsidy of £700m.

    India is the worlds largest democracy, one of the fastest growing economies and a long standing ally. Why on earth should we not sell them fighters?

  • ‘Since 1947 India has been involved in four wars against Pakistan’….
    In all of these four wars – Pakistan happened to be the aggressor and India was drawn onto to the battlefield to defend itself. Regarding internal conflict in Kashmir – it is a problem that has become extremely complex over the last 6 decades and is not easily solvable. The support structure provided by state agencies in Pakistan to promote terrorism in Kashmir certainly does not help the cause of peace.

    UK faces a bleak economic situation and a £700m deal is hugely beneficial to the British economy. A democratic state such as India is a natural ally of the United Kingdom and a strategic partnership between the UK and India would be hugely beneficial to both side. A foreign policy based purely on the so called ‘ethical’ terms will only result in greater damage to Britain’s security and economic interests.

    Geoff Payne – the ‘Hawk’ aircraft being sold to India is a ‘trainer’ aircraft and as the name suggests – it is essentially used to ‘train’ air force cadets in flying high altitude fighter jets. It is a loss for Britain if it doesn’t sell the trainer aircrafts to India as there are other competitors around the world who are vying for an order from India.

  • I have to agree with KS. India is not exactly the regional bully, Pakistan has a lot to answer for as well. Moreover India is the strongest democracy in the whole region – possibly mainland Asia. It’s not perfect, but then no country is. If we can’t sell to India then I don’t know who Kaye would suggest we sell aircraft to?

    This is not a deal to help get India out of poverty with jobs, it’s a purely diplomatic/military matter. The Indian airforce needs new trainers, so we should offer them so they can train their pilots to be some of the best. India will always have an airforce, so it makes sense that if we’re to sell them anything it’s something to help them train. The lion’s share of arms procurement for any airforce is the fighter jets, not the trainers.

  • This benefits workers in Britain and helps to contain a rising China. What’s not to like?

  • Interesting that the author of the article has not bothered to respond to any of these points

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