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22 March 2007

Conflict and Development

House of Commons

In last year’s Department for International Development White Paper, I was as pleased as everyone else to see the assertion by the Secretary of State that anyone who cares about development, must also care about conflict resolution.

The Select Committee, in our report, stated that this link between conflict and development is a relatively new field in development policy.

Mr Speaker, it is also without doubt one of the most important.

The Secretary of State will be well aware that new aid commitments, could be all but wiped out by an increase in conflict in developing countries.

Security is an absolute basic precondition for development – that is why this report, and today’s debate is so important.

The cost of conflict is measured in human suffering and in financial terms.

Sometimes it is difficult to put a figure on what the costs are. It is not always easy to count the bodies. It is also hard to count the numbers of disabled, amputees and injured. It is more difficult to cost the impact of war on traumatised children who have witnessed atrocities or who were forced to become child soldiers. Killing and witnessing the deaths of others, sometimes their own families.

Tens of thousands of child soldiers, girls and boys were used in the armed forces of over 60 countries between 2001and 2004 with at least 30,000 children fighting in the DRC, 20,000 children fighting in Uganda, and 17 000 children fighting in Colombia. Girls fight as well as boys – in the DRC, there are 12,000 girl soldiers

It is impossible to measure the long term emotional cost of having lived through war or genocide and the economic cost of missed opportunities that might have been taken were these conflicts not to have taken place.

The financial costs are also difficult to define. We heard at one Select Committee evidence session. The average cost of a conflict in dollars, but as I have said, the costs are not just in financial terms.

Last week one of my own constituents asked me, “What has been the cost of the war in Iraq.” The figures make grim reading.

In the four years since Iraq was invaded:

• Approximately £5 billion has been spent by the UK on the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the bill continues to rise

• 34,452 Iraqi civilians died in 2006 with at least an estimated 50,000 since the war began

Earlier this week at the International Development Committee meeting, we had and interesting discussion with Sundeep Waslekar, president of the Strategic Foresight Group who outlined various countries that had a track record of being breeding grounds for terrorists, or other groups that might be inclined to violence or conflict. Whether it was Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka or elsewhere, one common thread ran through the discussion. That conflict and poverty were inextricably linked. Even in Saudi Arabia, in a relatively rich country, where there were injustices and relatively poor or disenfranchised communities, the risk of violence increased.

It is sometimes easier to focus on the terrorists and their action rather than the deeper causes that build up to individual actions or full blown wars.

Today we are involved in military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. At the same time there is widespread acceptance that redevelopment of these countries is vital if they are ever to return to peace.

Today is not the place to go over the reasons behind our involvement in Iraq, but the link is clear and hopefully the Secretary of State will be able to update us today about any progress that is being made in the reconstruction of both countries.

Over half the countries and 20% of the population of Africa were affected by conflict in 2000. In the 1990s over six million died and over 20 million were displaced as a result of conflict. In countries such as Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. The scale of the devastation in these countries is hard to imagine.

The word displaced does not do justice to the suffering of those who have survived, but have ended in refugee camps or in hiding from their attackers.

When we look at the importance of conflict resolution, halting the flow of arms into conflict affected countries is a vital precondition to development. In recent years concern about the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction has unhelpfully distracted attention away from the greater threat to human security of the trade of conventional arms. I have seen for myself the devastating impact of arms trading in the conflicts zones across the world. Far too often guns are pouring into countries which are already suffering from conflict or close to civil war. Mr Speaker, the real Weapons of Mass Destruction are Kalashnikov’s and AK47’s.

No one here today would dispute the fact that small arms frequently end up in the hands of someone other than the intended recipient and all too often find their way into conflict zones. Getting to grips with this problem is of vital importance and requires action on a global and a national level.

Strong common standards for global trade in conventional weapons must be an international priority. In this respect, it is crucially important that we make progress towards an International Arms Control Treaty which must be central part of conflict prevention and pre-emption. I was pleased to see the UN vote in favour of the recent UK-led resolution on this matter and I congratulate the Secretary of State for his part in that. However, keeping up the momentum on this issue will be key. Given the lack of enthusiasm in some quarters, I look forward to hearing an update from the Secretary of State on this.

Mr Speaker, while I commend the Secretary of State for his work towards securing international agreement on arms trade, I nevertheless feel that there is much work to be done in this country to ensure that we are part of the solution, not the problem.

The fact remains that, rightly or wrongly, the UK is one of world’s leading arms exporters. As such it is crucial that we conduct our affairs in an ethical and responsible manner. Current UK policy on not selling arms to governments, if it believes they will be used to repress the population, is welcome.

Likewise, I note the Government’s response to the Select Committees report, stressing that ‘the UK has one of the strictest export control regimes in the world’.

While I do not doubt that we compare favourably with many other nations, this does not mean that our current system is not in need of reform.

As a major importer and exporter of arms I have real concerns that we are not doing enough to track the flow of guns that pass through this country. I would draw the Secretary of State’s attention to my recent attempts to establish the whereabouts of nearly 200,000 assault rifles and machine guns imported from the Balkans to the UK in 2005.

Quite aside from the question of why we need to import arms from the Balkans, I have been disturbed at the revelation that we do not seem to have a clear idea of where many of these weapons are now.

I would like to imagine that a quarter of a million assault rifles coming in from Croatia and Bosnia were brought in to be melted down and decommissioned because they do not have facilities there to do it, in the same way as we provided facilities in Sierra Leone to melt down weapons after collections have been organised.

However, the current licensing system means that the way in which we track imports and subsequent exports of arms into and out of this country, on a case-to-case basis, makes it very difficult to establish a clear picture of the flow of arms through our ports. (While all arms exports are rightly subject to the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria), we often cannot be sure where these arms have come from, or where their final destination will be.

Guns themselves do not respect national borders and at the moment we often have no way of knowing where arms we have exported will end up, with guns frequently recycled from conflict to conflict. In West Africa, guns have moved from conflict to conflict in the last ten years, fuelling overlapping and uncontained conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia amongst others. As such, I would argue that greater knowledge of end-use of our arms exports is of fundamental importance.

I would like to see the introduction of specific re-export clauses to existing licensed production agreements given serious consideration. Would the Secretary of State not agree that this would greatly help the prevention of the export of arms produced or exported under licence, to countries of concern? I recall that the Labour 2001 Manifesto included a specific commitment to introducing full extraterritorial controls on arms brokering and trafficking. I would welcome the Secretary of States comments on this priority.

I know that the Government has concerns about the logistics of end-use-monitoring, however I am convinced that, given the way the arms trade operates, it is vital that we pay greater attention to the possibility that arms passing through the UK may end up in some of the conflict zones we have heard about already this afternoon.

We need far better co-ordination across Government to ensure that our work attempting to resolve conflicts in some of the worlds most volatile countries is not undermined by the use of the UK as a stop-over point for guns destined for conflict zones.”

Part of the problem is that this issue involves overlapping departments and presents a real challenge to joined-up-government. While his colleagues in the DTI will understandably have concerns that any new regulations in this area will complicate procedure and deter business, I would only point out the results of a 2001 survey of 69 companies by the World Bank which found that armed insecurity in fragile countries ranked as the greatest risk facing investors globally. It is no ones interest for guns from this country exacerbating conflicts elsewhere, business is no different.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that for our overseas aid and development to be effective, we must play our part in not only attempting to resolve existing conflicts, but also to ensure that we play no part in fuelling future conflicts.

Related items

international development
Iraq / Afghanistan
arms exports

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.