Last week, something rather unusual happened: a member of the British military establishment admitted total complicity in the devastation that is engulfing Yemen
The Independent Voices
The gruesome murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has sparked debate about US and UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia in ways that four years of war in Yemen have failed to do.
Yesterday, the matter was debated in parliament with renewed focus. And last week, something rather unusual happened: a member of the British military establishment – Brigadier John Deverell, former defence attache to Riyadh, no less – spoke out against British policy on the Radio 4 Today programme. He states quite clearly and simply that “we’re deeply complicit in the war”, a conclusion the UK government has been strenuously trying to avoid for the past four years.
His intervention was also unusual in a couple of further respects. The Brigadier curtly dismissed as “complete rubbish” the claim that if the UK stops selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Russia and China will step into the gap. He was clear that the effectiveness of suspending arms sales – unilaterally, if necessary – would be swift and significant: once existing Saudi stocks run out, “that would be it”. A halt to sales, combined with pressure on the Saudis to encourage the Yemen government to negotiate with the Houthis, could end the war.
And when Today presenter John Humphries intervened to make the government’s case, repeating that an end to arms sales would hit British jobs, the brigadier refused to pander to the ideological tug, though he recognised there would likely be “furious lobbying” by the arms industry.
As a long-standing researcher of UK arms export policy, this intervention was music to my ears. At last, someone from the British establishment was giving a description of policy and practice that I recognised.
This moment may represent a turning point in the debate about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, not least because the government is now having to resort to the tired old argument “if we don’t sell, someone else will” – an indication that it is scrabbling around for a justification.