BRITAIN is supplying chemical warfare technology
to 26 countries including Libya, Syria, Israel and Iran -- which was
labelled part of the 'axis of evil' by the United States.
Herald investigation has revealed that the UK is allowing the export of
the lethal chemicals, which are illegal under international law and
controlled under the chemical weapons convention because they can be
used in weapons of mass destruction.
The Department of Trade and
Industry (DTI), which authorised the sales, has admitted that it does
not know whether the exports will be used to create chemical weapons
once they are exported, or not.
Among the countries to which
Britain is exporting 'toxic chemical precursors' (TCPs) is Sudan. The
US bombed a factory in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in 1998 with the
full support of the Blair government for allegedly producing the deadly
VX nerve agent.
The UK is also exporting chemical weapons
technology to countries that are not signatories to the chemical
weapons convention and therefore do not recognise the international
ban on chemical warfare.
Sudan and Jordan, which the UK also
exports to, have signed the convention but not ratified it, making
the treaty virtually meaningless there. The other nations Britain
exports TCPs to are: Cyprus, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria,
Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South
Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.
are known as 'dual-use chemicals' as they can be used for harmless
activities like farming or adapted or turned into chemical weapons. The
DTI admitted the sales were on-going, but said the weapons were sold
'in the belief' that they would be used 'benignly' in agriculture or as
The DTI said it relied on assurances from foreign
governments in the form of 'end user undertakings' that they would not
use British TCPs to make chemical weapons. A spokesman agreed that this
was in effect nothing more than a promise that could be broken.
aim to minimise risk,' the spokesman said, 'but obviously it is very
difficult to say what happens to these things once they get to their
final destinations. It is impossible to clamp down 100%. It is
impossible to know what happens to them in the stages that come after
they leave Britain.
Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who sits on
international development, human rights and arms export committees, is
to raise the Sunday Herald investigation with the Prime Minister in the
She wants the Arms Export Bill, which is currently going
through parliament, to be amended to give MPs the right to scrutinise
and approve all weapons exports before they leave the UK. The
government has so far refused to give MPs these powers.
claims by the DTI that it monitored chemical sales were 'a myth' and
'did not stand up to scrutiny'. Clwyd added: 'We have no idea what
happens with these chemicals when they get to their final destination.
If we are going to sell these things we have to be 100% sure what
happens to them when they are sold. If we can't be sure, we shouldn't
Clwyd accused the government of having a 'skewed
morality', adding that the suspicion now hung over the Blair government
that it was 'aiding and abetting dodgy regimes in the development of
weapons of mass destruction'.
Professor Julian Perry Robinson, a
chemist at the Science and Technology Research Unit at Sussex
University, said TCPs were the main constituent of chemical weapons.
Robinson, who worked on the drafting of the chemical weapons con
vention and is a member of its UK National Authority Advisory Committee
said reve lations about trade in TCPs were of great public concern. He
explained how one TCP, dimethyl methylphosphonate, could easily be
turned into lethal sarin nerve gas -- the same agent used by the Aum
Shinrikyo cult to kill 12 people on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
said it was easy for countries buying chemicals from the UK to lie
about their end use, and backed calls for parliamentary scrutiny of
export licences, saying: 'It is impossible to say whether the current
Richard Bingley, of the group Campaign Against
the Arms Trade, warned that Britain was selling chemical weapons
technology to regimes that could one day turn the capabilities
Britain is giving to them back against it and its allies.
The revelations of Britain's trade in chemical warfare follow an
anti-arms trade demo nstration outside 10 Downing Street yesterday.
Prot esters were calling for a ban on weapons sales from the UK to
India and Pakistan as the two nations teeter on the brink of war.
Britain's Chemical Bazaar
Should the government step in to stop British firms selling arms abroad? Air your views in the forum