‘Tasteless’: BAE chief exec eyes lucrative arms deals in Mid East ISIS war

Reuters/Ammar Awad
British arms manufacturer BAE Systems says the growing involvement of Middle Eastern states in the battle against the Islamic State has caused a spike in demand for the support services it provides for aircraft and weaponry sold in the region.

Speaking to journalists after posting the company’s 2014 spending, Chief Executive Officer Ian King called the rise a “call to arms,” adding “you cannot let any performance degrade at this time when people are dependent on these assets.”

Egypt joined other Middle Eastern nations, including Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), following the killing of Egyptian hostages in Libya.

For the first time in the Middle East, the big Middle East countries are deploying their assets against IS,” King said. “Urgent operational requirements are high, support arrangements are high. It is high up on people’s agendas.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly using Panavia Tornado planes supplied by BAE’s predecessor British Aerospace to launch attacks on IS militants and positions.

The country has also invested in Eurofighter Typhoons, but it’s not known if they have also participated in raids.

BAE’s support service to Saudi Arabia is its third largest market after Britain and the US. It has further orders from Oman for 12 Typhoon aircraft, which, like Saudi Arabia, has bought arms from them in the past.

King said the rise of the Islamic State and the ongoing war in Ukraine would mean governments would keep defense spending high on their agenda, in spite of austerity measures degrading military budgets.

We have a lot of bidding activity going on at the moment and a lot of support activity going on,” he said.

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Critics, however, say the arms firm’s newfound prosperity is at the expense of human rights and ethical trading. BAE weaponry is also thought to have fallen into the hands of Islamist militants.

Speaking to RT, Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) called the comments “tasteless.”

This is yet another tasteless reminder that arms companies like BAE depend on war and conflict in order to make a profit. BAE isn't concerned about human rights or democracy; many of the governments it sells weapons to are among the most oppressive in the world.”

CAAT have pointed out before that the British government is hugely in favor of international arms trading.

There is a dedicated unit (the Defence and Security Organisation within UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)) of 130 civil servants whose job it is to promote arms exports, and who are in charge of deciding the UK’s ‘priority markets.’”

Since 2014, the priority markets for arms exports include Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE.

Weapons and systems for their maintenance have a far longer shelf-life than any risk assessment acknowledges. So even if arms trading with a country is stopped, they may already have developed a stockpile.

Arms trade expert and author, Nick Gilby, said most of the weaponry used by the Islamic State is over 30 years old, having seized weapons initially provided by the American government to Iraq.

Self-evidently, no one can judge what the political situation in any country might be in a few years’ time, let alone decades,” he said.