The British government saw Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as an “unparalleled opportunity” to sell arms to Gulf states, according to recently declassified secret documents.
The memos, released by the National Archives, reveal how in the build-up to the 1990 Gulf war ministers and civil servants scrambled to ensure Britain’s arms manufacturers could take advantage of the anticipated rise in orders for military hardware.
The latest annual report from the government’s Defence and Security Organisation shows that the UK won £6bn of arms deals in 2016 – representing 9% of the global market. Half of the total value was to the Middle East.
Over 10 years, the report ranks Britain as the second biggest arms dealer in the world behind the US.
In a letter marked “secret”, written on 19 August 1990, days after Saddam Hussein’s forces had invaded Kuwait, Clark wrote a private memo to Thatcher in which he described the expected response from the US and its allies as “unparalleled opportunity” for the Defence Export Services Organisation (now known as the DSO).
Clark explained: “Whatever deployment policies we adopt I must emphasise that this is an unparalleled opportunity for DESO; a vast demonstration range with live ammunition and ‘real’ trials.”
Later in the memo, Clark adds: “I have pencilled a list of current defence 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.”
Other memos showed that Clark used meetings with the emir of Qatar and with the Bahrain defence minister to push for arms exports. In further briefings he identified the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as potential customers. Joe Lo, a researcher at Campaign Against Arms Trade, said the same countries were now being targeted by the UK for defence exports.