UK halts new arms sales to Turkey

“If this move is to be more than symbolic then there can be no return to business-as-usual. It's time that the rights of Kurdish people were finally put ahead of arms company profits." UK’s suspension on arms sales to Turkey must also include existing licenses, say CAAT campaigners.

Protests against UK arms trade with Turkey
Protests against UK arms trade with Turkey

Following Turkey's invasion of northern Syria, France, Germany, and the UK have temporarily halted arms sales to Turkish troops

Tansy Dando

The UK Government has announced it will no longer export new arms to Turkey that could be used in the ongoing military intervention against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. 

This announcement follows moves by other European Governments to reduce arms sales to  Turkey, including the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway and Finland. The UK has also said it will review existing licences.

Last Wednesday (9 October), Turkey launched a military intervention against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, leading to campaigns for an arms embargo against the Turkish Erdogan regime. 

Conflict has been ongoing between Turkey and the Kurdish-led militia alliance for years, and Turkey began an offensive to create a 32-kilometre deep ‘safe zone’ clear of Kurdish fighters along the Syrian border, following President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from the area earlier this month.

Reports show that, following the invasion, France and Germany have temporarily halted arms sales to Turkey. The Finnish, Norwegian and Dutch Governments have also promised a freeze on new arms sales. 

“These arms sales should not have been allowed in the first place”

With over one billion pounds worth of arms deals taking place over the past five years, Turkey is one of the world’s largest recipients of UK weapons.

Last month the Turkish military was invited by the UK Government to London for Defence and Security Equipment International 2019, one of the world’s biggest arms fairs. The fair took place in London despite a huge amount of public opposition – with 70 per cent of UK residents opposing the government’s role in promoting arms exports to countries with poor human rights records, according to a survey by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

In January 2017, Theresa May agreed a £100-million fighter jet deal with Turkey, leading to extensive collaboration between UK arms companies and Turkey, and since President Erdogan came to power in Turkey in August 2014, the UK has sold £1.1 billion worth of arms to his forces.

Among other weapons, UK exports to Turkey include: £206 million worth of ML10 licences (aircraft, helicopters, drones); £84 million worth of ML6 licences (armoured vehicles, tanks); £82 million worth of ML4 licences (grenades bombs, missiles, countermeasures).

However, the UK has now announced a suspension on new arms sales that could be used by Turkish forces on the Kurds in Syria. 

Commenting on the suspension, Andrew Smith of CAAT said: "The Turkish Government is one of the world's largest buyers of UK arms, and they could easily be used in the war. Boris Johnson may have urged Turkey to stop the war, but that isn't enough. He must condemn the invasion in the strongest terms, but, more importantly, he must curb arms sales and act to ensure that UK-made weapons are not contributing to the violence.”  

“It is long past time for an end to the huge levels of political and military support that the UK Government has offered to President Erdogan and his appalling regime."

Campaigners insist the UK’s ban must also affect existing licences, not just any future sales. 

Andrew Smith went on to say: “It must also affect the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of arms that have been licensed over recent years. As long as those licences are still valid then those arms can be used.”

“This should also mark a turning point in UK foreign policy in Turkey. In 2018 Turkish forces bombed Afrin and it made no difference to arms sales or military collaboration. If this move is to be more than symbolic then there can be no return to business-as-usual. It's time that the rights of Kurdish people were finally put ahead of arms company profits."