Is it naïve to desire a government that does not promote corrupt practice; and which tries, mostly with sincerity, to represent its citizens honourably?

In DESO’s own words they offered “defence exporters an unparalleled network of contacts throughout Whitehall.” In the morally vague arms industry this afforded the illusion of legitimacy to otherwise suspect deals. What looked like a bribe was, in DESO-speak, a ‘special commission’; and accusations of promiscuous propagation of weapons were, in DESO-land, mere ‘security building measures‘.

No wonder British arms exports flourished: years of lavish UK Foreign Office ‘entertainment’ spending in its key embassies; and DESO with its veneer of quasi-legality over the kick-back culture of arms selling.

The scribe passes over the economic justifications for DESO - the academic research is inconclusive. But the scribe’s experience as a Treasury civil servant is not: UK overseas aid decisions have been distorted by arms deals in the past - and the Malaysian Pergau dam aid conditionally linked to the sale of BAe Hawk fighters springs to mind on this count.

It was said at the time that the Thatcher/Major governments were permissive of such arms deals – it was a Tory vice. Yet 15 odd years later a Labour Prime Minister arbitrarily prevents the Serious Fraud Office investigating an alleged massive breach of the rule of law in the BAe Typhoon aircraft sale to the Saudis on the grounds of national security. The deal, named by one of its key piss-taking originators 'Al Yamamah' or 'Dove', reveals a judicial process that has also been distorted.

Plus ça change? Maybe. But the original reason the state created DESO was in order to ’assist’ the UK’s arms industry. This it clearly helped do (insofar as it may reasonably be argued it merited assistance) but at some cost to self-respect. And impartiality: in the Al-Yamamah episode ring echoes of President Eisenhower valedictory warning of the military-industrial complex spreading its tentacles into the furthest reaches of government policy.

But for those without qualms DESO’s demise has little impact on the investment attractions of the large UK defence companies.

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous // 10/09/2007 07:55:00 PM

    "Al Yamamah" has been net gain for the uk and everybody in the uk, including you!
    DESO = good, Treasury civil servant = useless knob

  2. RJH Adams // 10/09/2007 08:20:00 PM

    Anonymous commentator with no data = no argument.

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