Campaign Against Arms Trade works to end the international arms trade. It currently has a strong focus on challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Why does this matter?

The financial value of the global arms trade in 2013 was at least $76 billion (SIPRI, 2015). The UK’s 20% market share, worth around £12 billion per annum (Tovey, 2015), makes it the world’s largest military exporter after the US. As the sixth-largest military spender in the world, the UK is also a major arms importer. It expects to spend £178 billion on new equipment to 2025, equivalent to more than £2,500 per person in Britain (HM Gov., 2015, p. 27).

Government and the corporate sector both benefit from a close relationship; the state can specify the equipment it wants, while arms manufacturers win lucrative contracts and enjoy extensive government support for their exports. It is one of many examples of an alliance of elite power, which would be far from the public gaze were it not for the work of campaign groups to bring it to light.

The government’s security strategy promotes the arms trade, arguing that ‘[r]esponsible defence and security exports… are essential’. But among the UK’s largest customers are governments with atrocious disregard for human rights and freedoms. Saudi Arabia, for one example among many, buys British military equipment and services worth billions of pounds per annum, despite being designated a ‘country of concern’ by the Foreign Office in view of its systematic violations of human rights (FCO, 2015).

The ingenuity of engineers now employed in the arms industry could be redeployed to turn the UK into a world leader in green technology. Campaign Against Arms Trade has estimated that the transition would provide twice as many science and engineering jobs as arms exports do now.


For more about why rethinking security means tackling the arms trade, see Rethinking Security: A discussion paper (section 3.1)

For more about work to challenge the arms trade, visit Campaign Against Arms Trade.

References and further reading

Black, I., 2015. ‘UK’s troubled ties with Saudi Arabia under growing strain’. Guardian, 13 October.

CAAT, 2014a. ‘Saudi Arabia’.
Available at:

CAAT, 2014b. ‘Arms to renewables: Work for the future’, London: Campaign Against Arms Trade.

FCO, 2015. ‘Saudi Arabia: Country of concern’,–2/saudi-arabia-country-of-concern

HM Gov., 2015. ‘National security strategy and strategic defence and security review 2015: A secure and prosperous United Kingdom’, London: Cabinet Office.

Norton-Taylor, R., 2014. ‘Saudis and Egypt among biggest markets for UK arms despite human rights breaches’. Guardian, 23 June.

Tovey, A., 2015. ‘Calls to ease controls on defence exports as UK sales of fighters and tanks decline’. Telegraph, 14 July.

SIPRI, 2015. ‘The financial value of the global arms trade’,