The United Kingdom has spent over £2.4 million ($3.27 million) over the past four years to assist Saudi Arabia’s military in accordance with international humanitarian law, it has been revealed in a session of parliamentary questions.
It was reported yesterday that in December, the Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Martyn Day requested information on Britain’s assistance to the Saudi military, to which Minister of Defence James Heappey revealed a letter showing that London had spent a total of £2.4 million for that project since 2016.
That revelation came two months after the Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly stated that the UK was funding a programme in which British troops train Saudi Arabia’s armed forces to ensure their “compliance with international humanitarian law.”
Back then, Cleverly stated that Britain is helping the kingdom to “protect its national security” and assured that through its Gulf Strategy Fund, “we are having a significant positive impact on human rights in the region.”
This was the first time the UK detailed the extent of its funding of Saudi Arabia, which included £550,000 ($751,167) in 2019-2020 alone.
London’s assistance to Riyadh regarding humanitarian warfare and standards comes amid concerns over Saudi Arabia’s ongoing nearly six-year war in Yemen, in which numerous strikes on civilians and non-military targets have been documented. It is estimated that 8,750 civilians have been killed in Saudi air strikes on Yemen, and a humanitarian crisis has swept throughout the country due to the conflict between the kingdom and the Iran-backed Houthis.
Britain has also been found to be complicit in that conflict, with the government having signed numerous arms deals and sales to Saudi Arabia over the past four years, making it the second largest supplier of arms to the kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself, when he was the foreign secretary, approved the sale of Paveway guided missiles in August 2016, only days after 14 civilians were killed in an air strike on a potato factory in Yemen.
The Gulf Strategy Fund, which was previously secret and named as the Integrated Activity Fund, is a programme run by the British government which supports the six Gulf Arab states and is part of the nation’s foreign policy towards them. It was previously allocated an annual budget of £20 million ($27.3 million), but that amount was cut down to £8.4 million ($11.5 million) last year due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
According to the Guardian, the Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “It is deeply disturbing that the UK government is spending taxpayers’ money bolstering the Saudi’s military capacity.”