The UK consistently ranked third, fourth or fifth globally, along with France and Germany, in terms of the annual value of its conventional arms exports.
Key customers include the USA, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and other NATO partners. It is also a major exporter to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa.
Generally supportive of strict criteria for arms transfers, the UK has nonetheless supplied arms to countries where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious violations of human rights. For example, the UK supplied arms to the Sri Lankan government knowing of its repression and UK national legislation is being reviewed following evidence that the UK supplied small arms, ammunition, munitions and armoured vehicle equipment to Libya under al-Gaddafi as well as small arms to Bahrain and law enforcement equipment to Yemen.
Position going into the ATT negotiations
In 2005, the UK became the first major arms trading power to support an Arms Trade Treaty covering human rights. With France it helped establish the EU code that has now become the EU Common Position on Arms Exports, the starting point for UK policy positions on the ATT. It also co-authored various UN General Assembly resolutions between 2006 and 2009 leading to the current negotiations. The UK has generally supported the Golden Rule and has progressive positions on the treaty’s scope and implementation mechanisms (for example backing robust transparency measures). However, as with France and Germany, if there is not a majority of states pushing for strong rules, the UK could succumb to US pressure to water down the treaty text on human rights protection in order to accommodate China and Russia.