Issue 238 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
The government has announced that it will lift its four month embargo on Indonesian arms sales. John Battle, the foreign office minister, argued that Indonesia is no longer an unstable, military-controlled state but an emerging democracy.
Although the military has officially pulled out of East Timor, there are still militia groups (with strong links to the Indonesian armed forces) terrorising up to 170,000 East Timorese refugees trapped in West Timor. But the repression in Indonesia is not just in East (or West) Timor. In Ambon, British-made armoured cars are being used, and where social dissent is growing the military will use savage means to hold back people's protests.
There is growing speculation that some generals, particularly those who lost face in East Timor, are plotting a coup. This is a situation seen by the foreign office as stable enough to allow the supply of the seven Hawks--which would be the first British military export to arrive once the embargo is lifted.
Less than one week later came the decision to allow the export to Zimbabwe of spare parts for British Hawks, used by Zimbabwe in the Congolese civil war. The government claims it is upholding its ethical dimension. As Alastair Campbell explained, 'Our export criteria do not say and have never said you cannot export to countries involved in conflicts. What they do say is you cannot export any equipment that might be used for external aggression.'
It appears that Alastair Campbell has as little grip on the state of affairs in Zimbabwe as John Battle does on those in Indonesia. Zimbabwe has 7,000 troops playing a major role in the conflict in Congo, which is threatening to destabilise the entire region. This external aggression has kept the Congolese civil war raging--a conflict in which thousands of civilians have been killed or have starved to death, and large sections of the country have been devastated.
The failure to uphold an ethical foreign policy goes further than arms exports. In December last year Tony Blair allowed an export credit guarantee (where the government agrees to pay the company producing the export if the importing company defaults on payment) to be issued to underwrite British engineering firm Balfour Beatty's building of a dam in Turkey, which will flood and destroy 52 Kurdish villages and 15 towns.