Credit: CAAT

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

Awarded 2012


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

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has worked tirelessly to end UK arms exports since 1974.

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.

As long as arms promotion is seen as the business of government there is no prospect of arms control.

Anne-Marie O'Reilly of CAAT, 2012 Laureate

About CAAT

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 primary focus is to end the influence of arms companies over the UK government, a principal exporter of weapons. CAAT 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, 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 and 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.

In April 2007, the High Court in London concluded that the SFO had acted illegally to stop its corruption investigation. In July, however, the House of Lords overturned the High Court's ruling and decreed that the SFO had acted lawfully in national security interest.

While BAE escaped severe legal sanction, CAAT's work highlighted the morally questionable nature of both BAE and the UK Government's practices and subjected the arms industry to greater public scrutiny.

In 2009, SFO announced they would seek government consent to prosecute BAE.

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.

Opposing Arms Fairs

Arms Fairs are trade exhibitions for the military industry and an essential part of the international arms trade. One of the 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

In 2008, UK military export licences data became available for the public. In a further effort to bring transparency to a sector cloaked in secrecy, CAAT transformed the accessibility of the data and provided a searchable and straightforward way to present all arms export licenses granted by the UK government.

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 that politicians can no longer ignore. A Sunday Times poll showed 74% of the public oppose government support of such arms sales.

International Advocacy

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, 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 globally 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.

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