FCO, East African Department paper, ‘Africa: Arms Supply Policy’, October 1975

Cover note: this paper analyses the “disadvantages under which we operate in Africa due to our inability, in contrast to the Communist powers, to supply arms on concessionary terms” and the “lack of enthusiasm” in this by the Treasury, Overseas Development Ministry and ECGD.

Paper. “With rare exceptions, British policy in Africa has been to sell arms on a commercial basis. The largest recipient has probably been Nigeria, whom we supplied with arms on commercial terms both before and during the Biafran war… In recent years, and particularly as more military governments have to come to power in Africa, arms supply has become an increasingly important tool of foreign policy”.

Paper refers to “the extension of Communist influence” through arms exports and what British policy might be. First, it notes that ODM consider that using aid for the supply of arms is precluded under the Overseas Aid Act and that “to vary it would clearly require a high-level ministerial decision”. Therefore, “two possibilities remain. The first is to offer sums of programme aid to relevant governments on the confidential understanding that the financial resources thus released could be used for the purchase of arms. The main problem here would lie in the administrative capacity of the receiving government to arrange the virement of the funds in question, as well as in its ability to maintain confidentiality. These problems should not be insurmountable and there is no doubt that India, for example, has had no scruples in applying to defence purposes monies which have been freed through the application to Indian purchases from this country of the balances of maintenance aid remaining at the end of each financial year. The extensive balance of payments support which Tanzania has been receiving in recent years has similarly enabled her to acquire appreciable quantities of sophisticated arms. The other possibility lies in the use of extended credit terms, which in effect include an element of aid… The problem here is that the Treasury and ECGD take the view that the export of arms is a particularly risky business… The political arguments will therefore have to be pressed hard if any headway is to be made”.


National Archives: FCO 49/583