Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

(2012, UK)

...for their innovative and effective campaigning against the global trade in arms.


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. 

Contact Details

Campaign Against Arms Trade
Unit 4
5-7 Wells Terrace
London N4 3JU
Phone: +44 20 7281 02 97


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.

International dimension
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.


Award Acceptance Speech by Anne-Marie O'Reilly on behalf of CAAT

(The text of CAAT's speech is also available in German.)

7 December 2012 

Mister Deputy Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament, Your excellencies, Fellow laureates, Dear friends, 

Thank you 

It is a great honour to accept the Right Livelihood Award on behalf of Campaign Against Arms Trade. The Award is a valued tribute to the work of thousands of people in the UK, whose collective action has managed to expose, challenge and impede the arms trade since we began our work nearly 40 years ago. 

The devastating impact of UK weapons sales 

The trail of destruction wrought by weapons produced in the UK extends beyond the wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. It reaches from Gaza to Sri Lanka, from Egypt to East Timor. 

The UK spent four years promoting weapons to Gaddafi's regime in Libya. Then in 2011, it bombed the tanks that just weeks before it had been preparing to upgrade. In the same year, it continued to promote and sell weapons to Egypt, even though 846 people were killed in the brutal suppression of protests. 

In Bahrain, the government's crackdown on activists continues to this day, but the UK still bolsters the regime with weapons sales and the message of support such sales send. British weapons were used to kill civilians when Israel attacked Gaza in 2008. Yet the UK government has continued to arm the country ever since. In recent weeks, we have again counted the cost of those sales in human lives. 

Then we look to the UK's biggest weapons customer: Saudi Arabia. One of the most repressive regimes in the world, in 2011 Saudi Arabia deployed armoured vehicles made in the UK to help suppress the democratic uprising in Bahrain. Yet just last month, Prime Minister David Cameron visited the regime in person to try to secure more weapons sales. 

Attempting to manage public perception 

That visit shows us that our governments are not just allowing the sales but actively promoting them. How do they justify pouring public resources into promoting arms sales to authoritarian regimes? 

We're told that our arms controls are the strictest in the world, that all we need is an international treaty to bring everyone else up to our standard. But our standard is nothing to aspire to. It is to sell to almost anyone who will buy, be they dictator, human rights abuser or NATO warmonger. 

On paper EU arms controls aren't that bad. They say that we won't sell weapons if there's a clear risk they'll be used for internal repression, or for external aggression. If these rules were actually followed, we probably wouldn't have much of an arms trade. But the rules aren't followed. 

The fact is that no arms controls, or treaty, will work while our governments are actively promoting weapons sales around the world. The UK government has an office of 150 people dedicated to selling arms, far more than the staff they employ for promoting any other industry. 

We're told that the arms industry is essential for jobs and the economy. In the UK, the government uses grossly inflated and out of date jobs figures—it knows this is the only way it could rally public support. Yet how many other export sectors receive a £ 700 million subsidy from the taxpayer, over £ 9,000 per job? We know that far more jobs could be created in the vibrant green energy sector if public funds were redirected. 

We’re told that we need to export arms for our national security. Yet the UK sold weapons to Argentina weeks before the Falklands War. It sold arms to Saddam Hussein months before the First Gulf War. It actively courted Gaddafi weeks before going to war with him last year. 

Ordinary people know this is wrong—only 6% in the UK thought it was right to arm Gaddafi. You can either promote weapons or you can promote human rights: you can't do both.

Despite being small in the face of the arms trade, we do make a difference 

Unlike the arms trade, we do not have huge resources; Campaign Against Arms Trade has just a few staff members. What we do have is the energy and commitment of thousands of people who know the arms trade is wrong, are prepared to take action to stop it, and who fund much of our work with their donations. 

It can feel like we are facing Goliath, so how do we make a difference? By creative campaigning. In October, we won our campaign to end our National Gallery's support for the arms trade. For six years it had regularly hosted arms dealers and their clients in one of the most prestigious venues in the UK. With artists and activists, we took back the Gallery's space to create our own artworks. Playful interventions in the spirit of public art engaged support from the art world and persuaded the gallery to end its ties with the deadly arms business. 

How do we make a difference? By uncovering and communicating information. Information is power and the arms trade doesn't want us to have it, so we monitor trade press, obtain government documents through the Freedom of Information Act and analyse export data to bring this secretive industry into the light. 

We are pioneering new data applications, which enable dense government and industry data to be searched in an intuitive way: we are making information about what is being sold and to whom open to public scrutiny. 

Together with media work, online actions, social media messaging and political lobbying, we have shaped public debate to challenge UK weapons exports in the wake of the Arab Spring. We have named and shamed the companies that are arming Bahrain; and those that touted weapons to Gaddafi in 2010. 

How do we make a difference? By working with others across the world. In 1999, massive bribes were paid to ensure that South Africa bought Swedish and British planes at more than twice the price of their competitors. Campaign Against Arms Trade worked with South African campaigners and the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (Svenska Freds) to expose what was going on and highlight the devastating impact this deal had on public spending and democracy in South Africa.

With others in the European Network Against the Arms Trade, we make sure that the Annual General Meetings of key arms companies are dominated by questions of corruption and ethics. We gain inspiration from each other's stories of action: from the Swedish campaigners who shut down an arms factory for a day and from the German campaign to stop the secretive deal of 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia.

How do we make a difference? By engaging public support to challenge arms fairs. By harnessing the instinctive, widespread disgust with arms fairs where weapons are touted to whoever will buy, we succeeded in getting Reed Elsevier, the owner of one of the world's largest arms fairs to sell up. The campaign garnered support from many different quarters and used diverse tactics. Since Reed also owns the London Book Fair, published authors spoke out; since he owns a medical journal, the editorial board called for an end to the company’s profits from the arms trade—and two thousand academics signed a petition in their support. 

Activists began a weekly picket at their offices and targeted their Annual General Meeting while campaign allies sold their shareholdings in the company. Together we built a tidal wave of support to show that the arms industry is not a legitimate business that meant Reed could no longer afford to stay involved. 

How do we make a difference? By using legal challenges. On several occasions, we have taken on the government and arms companies in the courts—including challenging the government's decision to stop corruption investigations into BAE System's deals with Saudi Arabia. As a result, the name of BAE Systems has become indelibly associated with corruption. Its fear of legal action means it now avoids one of the key taxpayer subsidies it used to enjoy—government insurance to underwrite its deals. 

Where now 

For us, a small organisation taking on the massive arms trade, receiving the Right Livelihood Award is a great privilege. Arms companies do all they can to ensure that their interests hold sway in the media and with politicians. This award helps us amplify what ordinary people want instead. It gives international recognition to the persistent work of determined campaigners; it gives profile to the way the arms trade perpetuates conflict and human rights abuses; it gives us an opportunity to share what has worked and our aims for the future. 

Next year, the world's arms industry plans to descend on London for a huge arms fair, which will bring together tyrants, human rights abusers, countries from both sides of conflicts, and companies pushing the latest killing technology. We will bring all our resources to bear on exposing and resisting it so that it can no longer take place. 

Just as we have transformed UK arms export data to put its information in the hands of the public, we plan to do the same for other data sets, including EU arms exports. By exposing what is going on, we can enable people to challenge the arms trade more effectively. 

At a time of massive cuts to public services, it is vital that the huge financial support taxpayers give to the arms trade is questioned. With the award money, we will invest in campaigning to highlight the positive impact a move away from funding arms could have. Putting public spending on arms to work on tackling climate change instead would be a much needed boost for the economy. We would be contributing towards people's security, rather than threatening it with further arms proliferation.

The arms trade is an evil of our time. It fuels death, destruction and human rights abuses. But it is not a fact of nature. It exists because of decisions governments make, and they can decide differently. We can choose to restrain weapons sales, not promote their proliferation; we can choose to put human rights before arms company profits; we can choose to promote industries that support life, not those based on death. 

In the words of Eamonn McCann, who stood trial for the part he played in shutting down his local arms company: "We believe that one day the world will look back on the arms trade as we look back today on the slave trade and wonder how it came about that such evil could abound in respectable society." 


Short documentary about CAAT

This documentary is also available in German. 

Day of action against the DSEi arms fair

Disarm the Gallery

Launch of the campaign to end the National Gallery in London's sponsorship by arms company Finmeccanica, March 31 2012:

Al Yamama vs CAAT


Interview with CAAT

Questions answered by Henry McLaughlin, Fundraising Co-ordinator, CAAT, in September 2012

Why do you feel ordinary people should be concerned about arms exports and the arms trade?

There are many reasons why ordinary people should be concerned about the arms trade:

Governments, such as the UK, support and subsidise the arms trade, with public money, through government contracts, financial support for research and development and export promotion. In the UK this amounts to £700 million a year. Money spent by government on the arms trade could be better used on health, education, and creating more sustainable jobs for example in the rapidly expanding renewables industry.

Exporting arms does not add to a nation's national security. By selling arms to repressive and unstable regimes it just makes a country more insecure and less safe. The UK sold arms to Argentina before the Falklands War, Saddam Hussein's Iraq before the Gulf War, and Gaddafi's Libya just a month before launching bombing raids there.

It is a destructive and dangerous industry, and arms sales fuel conflict worldwide. Western governments routinely arm repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa - these same regimes used western weapons against people demonstrating for democratic reforms. 

The arms industry is one of the most secretive and corrupt in the world with recent legal cases brought against BAE Systems over arms deals resulting in heavy fines in the UK and USA.

What motivates and drives you and your colleagues to continue to challenge extremely powerful interests in the arms industry and within the UK government?

The arms industry is inherently dangerous and destructive, secretive and corrupting. Yet more than any other industry it depends for its sales and funding on governments. It affects people's lives, directly and indirectly. It undermines democratic decision-making in both arms exporting and importing countries. It fuels wars and inflames tensions between countries. To maintain its privileged support from governments, arms companies perpetuate the myths that they are essential for jobs and the economy, and national security. 

All of these issues and more, drive us to challenge the arms companies and the governments that support them. 

What differentiates CAAT from several other NGOs working in this field, such as Amnesty International? 

Unlike these other organisations, CAAT is a single issue organisation. We aim to end the international arms trade. We focus especially on the role of the UK government and arms industry and the links between the two. Unlike many other organisations, we are concerned with the 'legal' arms trade, involving governments and industry, rather than the much smaller illegal arms trade, and we look at the issues of government support and promotion, including arms fairs.

Our approach to the proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) differentiates us from Amnesty and Oxfam in particular. We believe that the proposals for the ATT are flawed because they accept the legitimacy of the arms trade and attempt to regulate and control it and provide a 'level playing field' for arms companies, rather than end or even limit it. CAAT does support interim steps that can lead to an end to the trade - for example we were active in the campaign to ban landmines - but we do not believe that the ATT will achieve this. 

What do you regard as CAAT's biggest success over the years?

CAAT has helped to restrain government subsidy of arms deals through export credit. Before 2008, a large proportion of the insurance cover provided by the government was for arms deals; in some years more than half of export credit was for arms deals. Since 2008 it has been less than 2% in most years and has not exceeded 5%. In evidence to MPs in 2011, BAE Systems said that the government was less inclined to give export credit to arms companies for fear of legal challenges by NGOs.

CAAT has had a number of other successes, for example a successful campaign to close the government's arms promotion unit, pushing Reed-Elsevier to disown the London arms fair, and challenging the decision of the Serious Fraud Office to end its investigation into BAE Systems. But in each of these cases the victory has later been at least partly reversed. This demonstrates the power the arms companies have within the British government, and the self-sustaining pro-military environment in which they operate. There is certainly plenty more work to do to change the culture in which the arms trade operates.

How successful was CAAT in linking the arms trade with the suppression of the 'Arab Spring' protests in Libya and Bahrain?

The UK government has a list of 'priority markets' it promotes arms sales to. Many of these countries were those involved in the Arab Spring protests including Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. When the uprisings spread to these countries, CAAT was able to draw on its research to quickly provide the media with examples of weapons the UK had sold to these countries. This shifted the agenda to show the government's hypocrisy on arms sales - they talked of democracy and human rights, while simultaneously selling weapons to these same governments. This was seen especially during David Cameron's 'democracy tour' of the Middle East at the peak of the uprisings, accompanied by arms company executives. Although the government initially rescinded 158 arms licenses in Feb-March 2011, arms sales have since resumed. 
A poll at the time showed that the British public strongly disapproved of government promotion and sales of weapons to oppressive regimes. UK arms sales to oppressive regimes was headline news across the full spectrum of media.

Where are the emerging challenges you see for CAAT's work in the next ten years?

The shrinking of military spending in Western countries is a good thing but it also means that arms companies will become even more reliant on markets in emerging states, including the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In some cases this will mean that more arms will be sold to repressive governments that can be used directly against their own populations, as well as in wars against neighbouring states. 

We will continue to demand an end to all arms sales promotion and an end to arms exports to repressive regimes and countries involved in conflict. We will continue to demand greater transparency in arms export licensing regulations and in scrutiny of licensing decisions. More than this, we hope to change the environment which sustains the arms trade. We need to ensure that decisions on the UK's own arms procurement, such as the purchase of new aircraft carriers, and foreign military interventions are challenged effectively. We will aim to highlight and constrain the revolving door of ministers and senior armed forces personnel entering into arms trade employment and sustaining the political influence of the arms companies.

Unfortunately the arms trade finds ways to develop new and destructive technologies, including distance warfare, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and surveillance technologies, which can be used for civilian and military purposes. Cyber technologies, which allow government to monitor and track populations are likely to grow cheaper and develop new markets. Some of these technologies will not even require export licenses so we will be pressing to make sure they are properly scrutinised.

What does the Right Livelihood Award mean to you?

We are honoured to receive the award and regard it as recognition for CAAT's achievements to date and support for our aims in the future. CAAT is a small and independent campaigning organisation, funded mainly by dedicated individual supporters and organisations. We hope the award will draw greater attention to the damage caused by the international arms trade and will encourage the growth of anti-arms trade activism in other countries. 


Publications by CAAT

For publications by CAAT, please see their website.

Articles about CAAT

For articles about CAAT, please see their website section "CAAT in the Media"



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