A set of recently declassified documents released by the National Archives show the U.S. was not the only nation to take advantage of Iraq’s two-day invasion of Kuwait in 1990, revealing the U.K. became the world’s second largest arms dealer as a result.
Almost 10 years to date since the report was written, the highly confidential briefings which date back to the 1990 U.S.-led coalition invasion of Iraq, showed the U.K. rushing to sell arms to Gulf states, meeting the demand for ammunition and rapidly boosting weapons sales.
A memo from Alan Clark, defense procurement minister to U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stated he believed the U.K. and its allies should view Saddam Hussein’s invasion as an “unparalleled opportunity” for the Defense Export Services Organization.
“Whatever deployment policies we adopt I must emphasize that this is an unparalleled opportunity for DESO; a vast demonstration range with live ammunition and ‘real’ trials,” Clark wrote.
Another memo from the minister stated,” I have penciled a list of current defense sales prospects at the start of the crisis. These are now likely to be brought forward and increase in volume if we do our stuff.”
He listed a number of potential customers with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan at the top of the list.
The file includes Clark’s suggestions to act quickly and begin weekly visits by intelligence officers to the Gulf states to inform them of any developments in the run-up to the war, describing his ideas for the briefings “highly sanitized” and nothing that would violate the U.K.’s “understandings” with the U.S.
Clark’s advice proved successful, bringing in nearly US$800 billion in 2016 alone according to the Defense and Security Organization while building a relationship with the Middle East which has survived to today.
“These revelations show that the U.K. government saw the coming of the first Gulf war not as an impending humanitarian catastrophe, but as an opportunity for arms companies to profit from the death and destruction,” Joe Lo, a researcher at the Campaign Against Arms Trade, told the Guardian.
Notes from Charles Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary, urged that the minister point out to Gulf heads the efficiency of doing business with the U.K. compared to its French counterparts as well as requesting Clark visit smaller Gulf states which, he stated, the U.K. had “not been sufficiently attentive to (for) their security needs and concerns.”
“The times may have changed, but the mindset is still the same,” Lo said, adding that the U.K. has returned to its old ways, seeking out the countries for a bigger share in the military business.
A recent briefing from a meeting on Aug. 7 showed ministers debating over filling an order worth over US$4 million for 36 Westland Black Hawk helicopters for the UAE; a possible buyer for armed desert vehicles and Challenger II tanks from Oman, worth more than US$70 million; Hawk jets to Bahrain, and seven hover crafts to Saudi Arabia.
However, in the mix of memos between Clark and his superiors are others which show the business initiative as a sensitive subject for officials.
A note to Secretary of State Colin Powell from William Waldegrave, minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, opposed the government decision to confront Hussein's human rights abuses, bringing attention to the obvious contradiction.
If the ministry opposed Hussein’s actions, “Why did you go on doing so much business with him?”