• BAE Systems was the world’s fourth largest arms producer in 2016 (SIPRI 2017)
• $23bn sales in 2016 (SIPRI 2017)
• £1.3bn of MoD procurement contracts in 2018 (Gov.uk)
• Euro Typhoon costs £125 million (including development + production costs)
• BAE CO2 emissions Total figure for all its sites internationally, 2017/18: 1.2 million tonnes CO2e. However, this does not include emissions of suppliers/ raw materials or from use of equipment (Parkinson)
The size and scope of BAE Systems makes Britain the second-largest arms dealer in the world (Guardian, 2019c).
• Before BAE Systems came into existence in 1999 through the merging of British Aerospace (BAe) and Marconi Electronic Systems (MES), British Aerospace (BAe) was involved in what was at the time the largest and most corrupt arms deal in history. The British Government struck a deal with the then-Saudi Defence Minister and Prince of the Kingdom Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud for BAe to provide over £40bn worth of arms in 1985. The arms supplied and the backhanders paid to top Saudi officials have played a destabilising role in the region and beyond for the last 35 years.
“The Al Yamamah – ‘the dove’ – deal signed between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia in 1985 was worth over £40bn. It was also arguably the most corrupt transaction in trading history. Over £1bn was paid into accounts controlled by Bandar… from 1999 money had inadvertently flowed from the account of Prince Bandar’s wife to two of the fifteen Saudis among the 9/11 hijackers.” (Feinstein, 2011: xvii-xviii)
• BAE Systems was investigated for bribery on a minimum of five separate occasions between 2000 and 2010. One of these occasions was when the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) conducted an investigation into claims that the company was operating a £60m slush fund used to bribe Saudi dignitaries (Guardian, 2005). The investigation was later dropped amid Saudi threats of withdrawal from a lucrative arms deal with the UK. Key BAE executives were released without charge after figures in the British Government decided that national security interests would be jeopardised by discontinuing the shady relationship between BAE Systems and the Saudi state.
“The United Kingdom is hostage to a similar collusion between the main arms companies, especially the large and powerful BAE Systems, and the executive branch of government, which acts as salesperson-in chief for the industry. This relationship intensified during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair’s New Labour happily followed suit. Over the past decade BAE has been investigated for bribery in at least five separate arms deals.” (Feinstein, 2011: xxvii)
• The widespread corruption and backroom dealings that characterise the relationship between BAE Systems and the Saudi royal family is typical of how the company does its business, with the Guardian newspaper revealing an extensive network of offshore shell companies used to funnel bribes to confidential agents around the world in exchange for securing arms deals with national governments.
“But those sums proved relatively small in the grand scale of things. The Guardian discovered that BAE was paying secret sums of money to confidential agents all around the world through a global system of offshore anonymous companies. An undeclared subsidiary called Red Diamond was acting as a vast laundry. A parallel entity called Poseidon made specific Saudi payments.” (Feinstein, 2011: 507)
See also BAE Corruption investigations (CAAT)
• Since 2010, Britain has sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries which Freedom House’s “Freedom in the world” ranks as “not free”. Furthermore, BAE Systems has even sold arms to 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list. Two-thirds of these countries are in the Middle East, with 80% of defence exports, worth a total of £14bn last year alone, sold to governments in the region. The vast quantities of arms to the region has had a direct detrimental effect on the national security of countries in the region and across Europe and Africa.
• Despite its efforts to conceal links to autocratic regimes, BAE Systems has been accused of being complicit in state human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Algeria and Guatemala. A BBC investigation has revealed large-scale sales of advanced surveillance technologies developed by BAE Systems to repressive governments in the aforementioned countries (BBC, 2017). As the UK’s largest arms exporter, BAE Systems sells telephone hacking and surveillance technology to up to 50 countries, many of which are not subject to UK licensing requirements as they are often funnelled through non-UK companies in the BAE group. Some estimates put the sales figure for UK spyware exports at £75m (Guardian, 2019a).
BAE Spyware Briefing (pdf)
• Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s third-largest client when it comes to the sale of arms (Bloomberg, 2015). The civil war in Yemen has so far claimed the lives of over 100,000 people according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED, 2019). There have been widespread reports that British arms and military equipment manufactured by BAE, and British-trained service personnel are doing much of the killing on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition. This coalition has been widely accused of committing war crimes due to its targeting of civilians in blanket airstrikes in Houthi areas.
“Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.” (Guardian, 2019b)
• BAE’s Typhoon and Tornado aircraft have been central to Saudi Arabia’s devastating attacks on Yemen.
• BAE has 6,300 staff in Saudi Arabia to support the operational capabilities of the Saudi armed forces.
• Over 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since war in Yemen broke out in 2015, including 12,000 civilians in directly targeted attacks. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels with a pattern of airstrikes that has brought repeated humanitarian criticism. (Sabbagh 2019)
• In 2012, a £1.6bn contract was agreed for supply and initial support for 22 Hawk training aircraft and 55 PC-21 Pilatus training aircraft (2013, p.10 & p.52)
• In 2016, Saudi Arabia contracted for a further 22 Hawk aircraft (2015, p.42)
BAE Systems has so far refused to take any responsibility for its facilitating role in human rights violations in Yemen.
In March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition commenced a military campaign in Yemen, targeting Houthis and allied rebel groups backing the former president of Yemen, the late Ali Abdullah Saleh. This military campaign has involved substantial numbers of air strikes against a wide variety of targets. There have also been numerous reports of breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade) is challenging the UK government’s decision to continue to licence the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The legal action is a Judicial Review, a type of court proceeding in which the judges review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.
On 20 June 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful.
The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place.
As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law. It has stopped issuing new arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, for use in Yemen.
The government is continuing to fight this decision and it will now appeal to the Supreme Court.
From CAAT website, Feb 2020. CAAT’s in depth report ‘A Shameful Relationship: UK Complicity in Saudi State Violence‘ includes many BAE references.
International Criminal Court (ICC)
A group of human rights organisations have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing BAE Systems and other arms manufacturers based in Europe of being party to alleged war crimes in the conflict in Yemen.
Their 350-page dossier argues that aircraft, missiles and other arms made by 10 companies “contributed to the capacity” of the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict, which is accused of bombing schools, hospitals and civilians in 26 airstrikes.
From BAE Systems Accused of Being Party to Alleged War Crimes. The Guardian, Dec 2019.
In the joint Communication, ECCHR, Mwatana for Human Rights (Yemen), Amnesty International (France), the Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK), Centre Delàs (Spain) und Rete Disarmo (Italy) call upon the ICC to investigate the legal responsibility of corporate and political actors from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK. The Communication focuses, among others, on Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, BAE Systems Plc., Dassault Aviation S.A., Leonardo S.p.A. and Rheinmetall AG.
Arms firms executives could face investigation for complicity in war crimes. The Ferret. Dec 2019.
Campaigners urge new Attourney General to rule (CAAT, from the website Ekklesia)
The Climate Emergency
• Although it has made steps to reduce its carbon footprint, by its own estimates, BAE Systems still produced 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2017/2018 (BAE Systems, 2017). However, this conservative estimate pales into insignificance when taking into account the role that BAE Systems plays in protecting the regimes that control the majority of the world’s oil production. The increased militarization of the Gulf States only serves to prop up the existing fossil fuel industry.
• CO2 emissions are directly proportionate to the amount of fuel burned by an aircraft. In approximate terms, every tonne of aviation fuel burned produces between 3.15 and 3.18 tonnes of CO2. (publicapp)
War on the Environment
• It has previously been estimated that 20% of all environmental degradation around the world is a result of military and related activities (Renner, 1991) – much of which of course involves the operations, services and products of big arms manufacturers like BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin.
Channel 4 Dispatches – Britain’s Hidden War. With BAE helping to keep Saudi jets flying, and British military officers working in the Saudi Air Operations Centre, Dispatches investigates the extent to which the war in Yemen is made in Britain.
BAE Systems political influence (CAAT)
ACLD (2019). YEMEN SNAPSHOTS: 2015-2019
BAE Systems (2017). Global Carbon Footprint 2017
BBC (2017). How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states
Bloomberg (2015). BAE Says Islamic State War Is Call to Arms for Weapons-Maker
Feinstein, A. (2011). The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Guardian (2005). Ex-chairman questioned in bribes inquiry
Guardian (2010). BAE and the Saudis: How secret cash payments oiled £43bn arms deal
Guardian (2019a). Human rights fury as UK licenses £75m of spyware exports
Guardian (2019b) ‘The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war
Guardian (2019c) UK reclaims place as world’s second largest arms exporter
Independent (2016). Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world
Parkinson. Military Carbon Bootprint, SGR
Publicapps. CAP1524 Environmental Information (pdf)
Renner, M. “Assessing the military’s war on the environment,” in Lester Brown et al. eds. (1991). State of the World 1991: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society (Washington, DC: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991), pp. 135-152. New York: W.W. Norton.
Sabbagh (2019). UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia for Yemen Declared Unlawful