Transcript of Today Programme 9 June Discussion on BAe Bribes Scandal 9


John Humphrys Does the end justify the means? Governments face that question all the time, and the answer is often yes, certainly if national security is threatened in any way. We do deals, we have relationships, with countries and leaders whose behaviour we deplore, especially if there seems to be no alternative. What about engaging in shady activities in the interests of creating jobs in this country? Well, that is the specific question that has been raised again this week with the revelation of the Saudia Arabian arms deal and the allegations that BAe paid massive kickbacks to a Saudi prince to get the contract. Well, Sir Andrew Green knows Saudi Arabia well, he was our Ambassador there for some years, and he’s on the line. Craig Murray is with me, he was our Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan. What’s your view of the deals that have been disclosed this week, they’ll have come as no surprise to you I imagine Sir Andrew?

Sir Andrew Green No, they don’t come as a huge surprise. I wasn’t aware of the detail of course, as these things are regarded as commercially confidential.

Humphrys Does it surprise you, before we move on from that, does it surprise you that Prince Bandar got so much, I mean more than a million [error – billion] pounds apparently in what are being called kickbacks.

Green I think that the allegation is more than that, but no, it doesn’t surprise me, any arms deal in the Middle East has payments for commission, or whatever you like to call it, associated with it. I don’t think there’s any news in that. I think the scale of it is surprising, yes. But, as you say, it’s a case of balancing our national interest against other factors and that’s very much one for the Prime Minister to take.

Humphrys But you, now that you’re no longer a diplomat you’re allowed to say this, what’s your view of it?

Green Well, it’s a matter of judgement, isn’t it. As you know, I’ve dealt with the Middle East for about forty years, and frankly I agree with the Prime Minister on this particular point. He said that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important to our country, and if you just look at the outlook for the country, if you look at Iraq collapsing into chaos, a confrontation with Iran developing at American behest, anarchy in Palestine, genocide in Sudan, instability in Lebanon, I mean it just seems to me plain commonsense not to have a bust-up with a very influential ally in the heart of the region.

Humphrys Do you agree with that, Craig Murray?

Craig Murray No, I don’t. I certainly regard our relationship with Saudi Arabia as very important, but the idea that you can’t maintain good relationships with a country without paying hundreds of millions of pounds in bribes is a very poor one.

Green That’s not quite the issue though, is it? I mean the issue is whether we should do something that would be extremely embarassing for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. I mean, the contract having been in place for some twenty years or so, so that the decision before us now is whether to allow that investigation to go forward, or to stop it, which is what the Prime Minister has done.

Murray Well, I spent most of my career in Africa and working on Africa. In Africa very poor people have their lives ruined by the fact that their governments are extremely corrupt, and that hundreds of millions, billions of dollars of aid money, donor money and commercial money are kicked back to the rulers by Western companies. How can we deplore corruption in Africa when we are actively participating in it in Saudi Arabia? And how can we say the rule of law applies to everybody in the land, if the Attorney General can say, as he did, that in this case the national interest outbalances the rule of law. The national interest can’t outbalance the rule of law in this country, nothing can outbalance the rule of law, not even the Crown.

Humphrys Isn’t this the point Sir Andrew, aren’t we saying “Don’t do as we do, do as we tell you to do.”

Green Well, first of all I don’t think you can draw a comparison between the countries of Africa and those of the Middle East.

Humphrys Really, why?

Green Well, first of all, there are very many countries in Africa and the situations are different in each. I think the key to taking a view on a particular country is actually to know about it, and the Middle East is quite different. There are very few people in Saudi Arabia who are actually in poverty. It’s not a question of the people suffering, they’re all quite reasonably well off.

Humphrys It’s the principle that we’re talking about here.

Green Well, the other principle is that you have to take the World as you find it, and you can only operate within the situation that you find within a particular country and a particular region.

Humphrys Is that the case when you have a Prime Minister who says that he’s a liberal interventionist and he wants to change the World?

Green Well, you would have to put that one to the Prime Minister. What I am saying is that on this issue, where he decided the balance of interest was not to proceed, I think he’s right in terms of our national interest, I think he’s right in terms of the counter-terrorism point that they have made quite a lot of, and they are not wrong to do so, and people often forget that Saudi Arabia itself is the first target of Al Qaida, the same organisation which threatens us so seriously. And we need hard information on those people involved, on their networks, on their movements, and the Saudis are interested to help. And that…

Humphrys That’s an important point surely, Craig Murray. If we are threatened in any way then we have to take help where we can get it, however distasteful it may be.

Murray I think there have to be limits, at the end of the day, to what you do.

Humphrys What, even if national security is at stake?

Murray Yes, because our security in the long term isn’t helped by promoting injustice, and the regime in Saudi Arabia is not a democratic one and is a tyrannical one which uses torture very freely and has even tortured British subjects in the past: that can’t be in our long term interest to assist.

Humphrys I am afraind, sorry Sir Andrew, we have to stop it there. Craig Murray and Sir Andrew Green thank you both very much.


9 thoughts on “Transcript of Today Programme 9 June Discussion on BAe Bribes Scandal

  • NoJags Neil

    Blimey, that's a pretty short debate for an important issue. I read it in about five minutes so it must have taken about three. Did they have to go off and cover something "important", like the colour of Jade Goody's pants?

  • Randal

    Is it in the interests of the people of Britain, as opposed to the government, to openly allow our government to get away with a policy of saying one thing and doing another? I think not.

    "our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important to our country, and if you just look at the outlook for the country, if you look at Iraq collapsing into chaos, a confrontation with Iran developing at American behest, anarchy in Palestine, genocide in Sudan, instability in Lebanon, I mean it just seems to me plain commonsense not to have a bust-up with a very influential ally in the heart of the region."

    Of course, if we had a genuinely ethical foreign policy that restricted our government to the activities legitimately available to a government – direct national defence and protection and promotion of our citizens' interests within the limits imposed by considerations of national sovereignty – none of the above issues would be of any direct concern to our government, and we would not need to aid and abet corrupt and tyrannical regimes in this way.

    Just as an awful lot more of the general crime and corruption in our societies ultimately stems from the foolish injustice of prohibition than is generally realised, many seemingly distant problems actually stem from the initial injustice and error of allowing our government to interfere forcefully or fraudulently in other peoples' lives in the area of foreign poliy, as well. "Blowback", and unintended consequences in general, are only the most obvious ways in which this occurs.

  • t

    Interesting facts from the

    Campaign Against the Arms Trade:

    "One of the few ways for the Government to rally public support for the arms trade is to claim that it keeps people in work and helps the UK economy. However, the Government's own figures show that the number of people employed in producing arms for export is far fewer than popularly supposed and many arms export jobs are located in areas with very low unemployment.

    Nor is it widely known that the UK government subsidises the arms trade to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, which means that far from benefiting financially from the arms trade, the UK taxpayer is shelling out to finance it.

    CAAT's 2004 estimate was that the government subsidy to arms *exports* was around ?900 million.

    The MoD's own estimates show that 65,000 jobs are sustained by military exports, just 0.2% of the national labour force. The MoD-York report, which was co-written by MoD economists, concluded in 2001 that halving military exports over a two-year period would lead to the loss of almost 49,000 jobs, but that 67,400 jobs would be created in non-military sectors over the following five years. The report concluded that "the economic costs of reducing defence exports are relatively small and largely one-off."

    More from http://www.caat.org.uk/issues/jobs-subsidies.php

    Personally I suppose we're supporting the Saudi regime with arms, bribes, cover-ups, whatever, because without them there'd be a) an uprising against the US and the "west" would lose all its strategically placed bases and b) after years of tyranny, there's the possibility of an extremist fuelled bloodbath? Though b)would not seem to matter much any more, admittedly.

  • ChoamNomsky

    In Saudi Arabia we are supporting a regime that is actively oppressing it's people, and in this particular BAE case, effectively stealing from them with our approval. Imagine living in a country where there is brutal oppression. Obviously you would view the government as your enemy, but what about those governments that prop it up. You may start to view them as just as much an enemy as your own government. With this in mind, is it any wonder that Saudi Arabia has spawned so many Al Qaeda members?

    Supporting regimes like the Saudi Royal family is creating new enemies on a daily basis, and is in fact undermining the national security of many western countries.

    What this is really all about is money, not national security. It's not just companies like BAE that benefit, but also politicians that end up with directorships in Saudi-backed companies.

  • writeon

    This affair focuses on the core problem we have in relation to our values; that we are monumentally hypocritical whenever it suits us. Not only do we employ double-standards; one set of "laws" for our friends and another set for those who oppose us; it's worse than that. In essence our culture has become degenerate, decadent, illegitimate and hypocritical. Our actions are dramatically different to our fine words, principles and values. Blair personifies this schism in our culture. And his policy of humanitarian imperialism contains everything that's ghastly in our political attitudes.

  • Tonys Akiller

    The danger is of course, that once the law is broken, particularly in a case like this when it's broken on a massive scale and in relation to a country {Saudi} whose government many in this country alone have grave reservations about, then the law breaking will proliferate.

    Now, ANY nasty government (overtly or otherwise) around the world can be given bribes/illegal payments by the Brits and the ridiculous 'It was done in the national interest' will be pulled out of the bag. In fact now ANY CRIME seems permissible on these grounds. Look at the nightmare of the DeMenezes slaying, Iraq, etc. etc.

    If this particular defence is to be accepted (I totally disagree that it should), then there MUST be a mechanism in place where this claim can be PROVED. An utterly Independent (not this pseudo-independent sham of Attorney General – political appointed thing) panel has to be given evidence that the claim is substantiated.

    I am utterly SICK of Successive Governments perverting the generally well meaning laws of this country and getting away with it just by saying it's legal or that 'the country' must do this thing. In fact, it enrages me. It is actually a stain on all us Brits for allowing it to get this far.

    I really cannot believe the depths the country has plummeted to. These days I read 1984 to provide me with a bit of escapism and to cheer me up!

  • Tonys Akiller

    writeon said:

    "This affair focuses on the core problem we have in relation to our values; that we are monumentally hypocritical whenever it suits us."

    Well said writon. You know, I think it kind of amazing; The citizenry of the country realize this, are highly embarrassed by it and would rather it didn't happen. But when it comes to rotten governments this streak of sensibility goes on permanent migration.

    Guess at that level, the 'political power rush' overrides the common sense gland. Edwina and John may well agree.

  • Randal

    "we are monumentally hypocritical whenever it suits us"

    One that grates particularly with me is the way so many in the west bend over backwards to provide rationalisations or justifications for strategic bombers, while simultaneously, and endlessly, declaring the utter moral evil of suicide bombers.

    They can't have it both ways – either there is no possible excuse for targeting children to be blown to pieces or incinerated, or it can be legitimate to do so for a greater cause. In no way can the wearing of uniforms, the use of stand-off weapons, or the survival of the perpetrator give greater moral legitimacy (quite the contrary, in fact, in the latter two cases).

    If Hamas, Hezbollah or Al Qaeda suicide bombers are cowardly(!) moral criminals, then so were Bomber Command's strategic bomber crews, and so (in spades!) were the crews of the USAAF atomic bomb droppers. If, on the other hand, Bomber Command's strategic bomber crews and the crews of the USAAF atomic bomb droppers were notionally brave men doing a nasty but necessary job for their nation, then so were the suicide bombers of Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Personally, I suspect the truth is that both are true of both groups. But that concept is a little too complicated for most peoples' liking. "Moral clarity" is so much easier.

Comments are closed.