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It's the way of the world. money is what ultimately matters, whatever DC says. Remember East Timor?!

The price of doing business in the Mid-East is the payment of Advance Commissions, to middle-men and those with influence, to obtain state contracts which are in the purview of the ruling family. It has been so for yonks.
So, if BAE did what was expected and was acceptable under the local culture then i see no problem, UK jobs come first rather that adherence to some alien concept which the buyers do not understand.
We may be damn certain, that if BAE did not get the Al-Yamamah contract then someone else would have, on the same existing terms. If it had been the French we would not be hearing about any enquiry. The French government went to extremes to cover up the corruption in the Taiwanese naval frigate contract.
It is time to lay the Saudi/BAE deal into its grave and leave it alone. Culture is culture, ours is most certainly not theirs, and we do not impose ours on theirs.

The former Defence secretary Michael Portillo said on this week words to the effect that people need to grow up and get real on this issue, It has been policy for over 20 years to deal with the Saudi's. They are of critical importance to the British Arms industry.

It's (where "it" is "the Conservative party") response to this has been a disgrace. Tim, your views on this matter are completely correct.

The total lack of comments on this thread show what most of us think of this situation. If the Lib Dems do not believe that we should export arms they should say so. They should so particularly clearly to each and every employee of BAE.

"a well-armed Sunni Saudi Arabia balances out an aggressive Shia Iran"

The 9/11 bombers were Saudi Sunnis like Osama Bin Ladin. Saudi Arabia is the home of the Wahhabi sect that exports extremist Islamic fundamentalism to mosques in Western countries.

Saudi Arabia practices Sharia Law, beheads adulterers and tortures political prisoners. The ruling regime is inherently corrupt and tyrannical.

The Saudi regime, like Iran's, should be treated with contempt rather than feted by Conservative politicians such as Gerald Howarth. Truly disgusting!

Even if Portillo was a respected voice on foreign affairs, which he isnt, the fact that it's been policy for 20 years (more than?) doesn't mean it's the right policy.

Malcolm, I think for the first time ever I completely disagree with you. Perhaps I'm missing something in my inadequate (freely admitted) concept of ethics, but I seem to remember something about Kant: any moral imperative must be universal or it's not a moral imperative (I'm sure there are much more learned readers who can put me right, and please remember I'm just a scientist who likes novels). I think about my work. What about if I got on at work by bribing more senior people to prefer me over others? Would that be OK? The answer, to me, is unequivocal. Well that's my own internal sense of integrity taken care of. Why should I put up with something different from the government? To answer your question specifically: I would be more than happy to say to any employee of any organisation: if your contract is founded on a bribe, it's invalid. Sorry (truly). Please take your case up with the people who committed the fault in the first place.

My initial thoughts about this are ethical, really, and not Saudi-specific. They take on a moral (as opposed to ethical? I really am ignorant about these matters) dimension when I remind myself that we're talking about Saudi Arabia (Mr Keith's home for 8 years). Moral bankruptcy, added to ethical corruption. I'm disgusted that the Conservatives aren't shouting loudly about this.

"An argument can be made that British jobs come first, that strategically a well-armed Sunni Saudi Arabia balances out an aggressive Shia Iran, or even that we need to placate the House of Saud in return for oil and intelligence on (its!) terrorist networks, but there is no question that it fails Cameron's "unsuitable regime" yardstick."

On the bright side, air superiority fighters are completely useless to the Saudis and no threat to us (or US) - Kuwait had plenty of them and they don't stop a tank army, never mind light infantry like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Any money the Saudis spend on planes they're not spending on spreading Wahabbism in the West.

I think the main purpose of these arms deals from the Saidi POV is not the weapons themselves, if they were genuinely worried about Iran they'd be buying tanks and artillery - if they had anyone willing to man them. Rather, it's the influence they buy with western governments. Inculcating a Dhimmi attitude in the British govt is far more valuable than any number of Typhoons.

'Act only on that maxim which thou canst at the same time will to become a universal law'

Sadly Graeme, Kant's Categorical Imperative has little relevance to the worlds of power politics and international business. It's one of the reasons why I can't get wildly excited about either.

However, Cameron has made great claims to be an 'ethical' politician, so in the interests of consistency at least, his apparent relationship with certain key players in this drama needs to be closely examined.

If we sell to Saudi Arabia, we might as well sell to Zimbabwe, Sudan or China.

On another note, BAe should have been told to go take a flying jump years ago. It consistently rips off the British taxpayer for billions with late and vastly over-budget projects, secure in the knowledge that the government is hamstrung by its support for a British defence industry.

Do I sense the involvement of the pro-Israel lobby here?

Wafic said is very generous....didn't he pay hotel bills for Jonathan Aitken at the Ritz in Paris ?

I suppose Mark Thatcher is grateful to him. He has his own Business School in Oxford - at least Harvard got its money from George F Baker, founder of Citibank rather than an arms commision agent

Or should be call him Sir Andrew Undershaft - or is that too much G B Shaw ?

'Act only on that maxim which thou canst at the same time will to become a universal law'

Well that is merely an attempt to synthesise a universaal position in place of religious commandments.......it rests upon excatly the same premise...if you believe, you act upon that belief; if not you are non-believer in a) Christianity b) Kantianism

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You're completely right on this, Graeme.

Post 9/11, Britain's strategic interests are surely far less aligned with BAE's and the rest of our arms industry's than they may once have been. Arming rotten regimes - as Saudi surely is - will come back to bite us, sooner or later.

Denis Healey may have initiatied the systematic and institutionalised corrupt state support for our arms industry. Whilst these procedures may have continued since then, it's time for politicians of all parties to stamp them out, both for ethical and strategic reasons.

I am very disappointed that we are letting the Lib Dems make all the running here. Floating 'values voters' still to be convinced that we will stand for decent principles will find little to encourage them in our response. But we should be taking a stand against this corruption simply because it is the right theng to do.

Well that is merely an attempt to synthesise a universaal position in place of religious commandments

Yes that is really true. Even the mighty Kant cannot make an 'ought' out of an 'is'

But of course Dave has been telling us that he is a good Christian, at least ever since he became anxious to put his daughter down for a Church school (independent schools are now verboten for politically ambitious Old Etonians)

Does anybody know how often he attends Church and which 'brand' of service.

As a Conservative in religion as well as politics I attend only the 'Prayerbook' variety and expect other Tories to do likewise.

The business of keeping ones country able to defend itself adequately against aggression, is becoming an expensive nightmare these days. Matthew Parris is quoted above as saying: 'We would have done better to have shopped around abroad more widely, for our arms in the first place'. I can think of numerous reasons why that would not be a good idea - as a major policy! So Britain muddles on, after all in this country the wages of the workers in the arms industry must be higher than in most other armament-making countries. One can understand that selling arms, could be seen as a way to help finance the arms industry. That is all one side of the equation.

The other side is, if you have a country rich enough to buy what arms it wants, and is sitting on a sea of oil that is seen as necessary to your own country, AND added to this the rulers of that country are Bedouin descendants who were probably haggling, bargaining and quite possibly bribing to make a living, in the time of Jesus Christ, then it seems to me that the options are fairly straightforward - you can either take or leave that particular business venture!

Some on here seem to have ambitions of reviving the late Robin Cook's "ethical foreign policy" which proved difficult to square with having the second largest Arms industry in the world.

Saudi Arabia will buy arms whether we wish to sell them or not. Would the critics here rather they were armed by the Russians or Chinese or the French? How would it serve British interests to humiliate Saudi Arabia and have yet another enemy in the Middle East? God knows we need friends there.
The Saudi Rabian regime might not suit all tastes but it could be far,far worse. Remember where Bin Laden and most of the 11th September bombers were from.
We supposedly took a self denying ordinance attitude to arms sales during the Iraq-Iran war. Did it stop the war? No. Did it help us influence the outcome of the war? No. Was the market lost to us immediately? Our arms were replaced by French (to both sides!) Russian (to both sides!) and most hypocritically of all American arms.Most important ,did we achieve anything? No.
What we we achieve by bringing the Al-yammanah deal to a close . In my judgement absolutely nothing of value except some to ease some consciences. In return we would condemn thousands of workers to unemployment, jeopordise relations with a key energy supplier and lose what little influence we have in that part of the world.

It's interesting to note that much of the support for a 'realistic' arms policy (which I share) is coming from Cameroons.

But how does that square with the supposedly 'ethical' approach to foreign relations which Cameron proclaimed soon after becoming Tory leader?

Some of us assumed that the vague noises about Darfur and his fulsome 'apology' for the party's past South African policies might set the trend for a policy which was at least consistent if nothing else.

Personally, I have no problems at all with the arms business (it's just another business after all - aren't we all supposed to be capitalists nowadays?) or with the payment of 'advance commissions' if that's what a business needs to fo to secure contracts in a particular country.

There's no such thing as "dirty" money; my only real concern arises when these payments are essentially made at a direct cost to the UK taxpayer rather than coming out of the overall profits of the company seeking to secure the business. Governments shouldn't give backdoor assistance to any business, nor should they enforce an 'ethical' foreign policy if it gets in the way of free trade.

Normally I would default to the mode that says we need to support a home grown arms industry in the interests of national defence. I still feel that.. and yet there are some real issues here and they are wrapped up in poor foreign policy decisions as well. Ironically they are now potentially damaging our main arms company and its ambitions to grow via US acquisitions. At some point we have to take a more moral viewpoint if not a purist one as by not doing so we are risking problems later, both in foreign relations and enterprise,


I have may missed it, but as Portillo has been mentioned, it should be noted that he is a non-executive Director of BAE. I am sure when he offered his opinion on the general issue in the media, that that interest would have been declared.

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Understated though it may be, I think Cameron's approach is essentially the right one. The arms market is global market and the problem is global problem. The solution must also therefore be a global one. If we are to create the right incentives for companies engaged in this market and ensure that we do not undermine the competitiveness of arms companies who do the right thing, we need to ensure a level playing field in the global arms trade.

The global arms trade treaty is the only credible way forward. If we don't regulate the arms trade at global level and hold companies responsible for their actions in a uniform manner there will always be a disincentive for both arms companies and arms exporting countries to stamp out this corruption that undermines the rule of law and rips off tax-payers around the world.

Tanuki - I could not disagree more with what you say.

First, there is a fundamental contradiction in what you say: on the one hand you condone bribery if it helps a company get ahead and on the other hand you lambast the idea of an ethical foreign policy getting in the way of free trade.

These two propositions are totally incompatible.

The idea of free trade presupposes that companies are able to compete freely and on an equal basis with one another in the relevant market. Bribery is the antipathy of fair competition and totally undermines one of the key tennets supporting the notion of free trade.

Many bloggers have argued passionately and at length that candidates should be selected on the basis of their merits. It would be inconsistent for bloggers not to argue that the ideal we should be striving for is that companies should also get selected for a contract on the basis of their merits and not on the basis of how big a bribe they are willing to pay.

Second, I also disagree that there is no such thing as dirty money. I agree on the one hand that money itself is morally neutral tool; a means that can be used for good and evil ends as the user chooses. However the way it is given, to whom it is given and to what end it is given is of paramount moral importance. Giving money that you are aware may be used to finance crime, terrorism or the oppression of a people by a despotic regime is not a morally neutral activity. Funding such activities people has real consequences for real people. Furthermore, corruption has for years undermined the economies many developing countries. People have been kept poor because some companies and governments see corruption as a way to get ahead. Money is not inherently dirty but our actions can make it dirty.

Londoner, when portillo made his comments on this week, before being asked for his opinion, the programmes presenter Andrew Neill did point that out, so there was no attempt to mislead viewers in anyway.

Not withstanding his connectons to BAE I think as a former Defence secretary his contribution to the debate is a valuable one.

Unless we are going to stop selling arms to everyone, I fail to see how we can introduce this moral dimension to policy. This is exactly why Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy hit the rocks at the very beginning of labour's time in office. When you sell arms to a country you lose all control over their future use.

In the wider context I think maintaining relations with regimes with whom we may have issues over aspects of their behaviour is vital. We are far more likely to be able to persuade them to change by talking to them than by taking the moral high ground and refusing to deal with them.

"We are far more likely to be able to persuade them to change by talking to them than by taking the moral high ground and refusing to deal with them."

In the case of the Saudis, I think it's more them that are persuading us to change.

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