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BAE Systems: the arming of a coup?

What is this report? BAE Systems, benefiting from global conflicts and threats of war, has seen recent unprecedented profit growth, highlighting the lucrative nature of the arms trade amidst global instability. This 2024 report – “How BAE Systems helped arm half the world” – from Action on Armed Violence investigates BAE Systems’ secretive client list spanning the previous decade, and scrutinises the ethical implications of arming countries with dubious human rights records and unstable political regimes.

In the past decade, 17 countries have experienced one or more military coup d’états. Of those, nine have reportedly engaged with or bought from BAE Systems (definite or reported) over the past decade, with more than a quarter (five) of these being definitely involved with the UK defence giant.

The countries that have experienced coups are: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

BAE Systems has had definite relationships with five of them: Egypt, Mali, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

BAE Systems has reported sales to another four: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Niger and Zimbabwe.

The frequency of coups is on the rise. The past five years have witnessed 16 military coups and coup attempts across the world, compared to nine coups between 2013 and 2018. 

It has been shown that investing in military equipment rather than democracy and governance increases the likelihood of coups (though this report accepts that – specifically – the coup in Ukraine was an overthrow of a corrupt power regime) . 

Data: Powell and Thyne, 2022, "Coups d'état, 1950 to Present

A coup d’état refers to overt efforts by the military or other influential groups within the state machinery to remove the current head of state through unconditional means. The success of a coup attempt, according to data compiled by Powell and Thyne, is determined by the perpetrators gaining and maintaining control over the government for a period of at least seven days (which is, again, why Ukraine is also included in the list). 

While the obligations of states to regulate the international arms trade are defined under the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as regional and domestic legislation, the crucial role of arms companies such as BAE Systems in the supply of these technologies is often overlooked. Defence companies often claim that due diligence is carried out by the states that approve licenses for arms transfers, however, the United Nations Guiding Principles for Human Rights (UNGPs) explicitly stress that companies have their own distinct due diligence and responsibilities – independent of a state’s obligations. 


Critics have expressed concern about the sale of arms to nations with recent histories of conflict, coups, and military suppression, notably highlighting Egypt as a case in point. Having ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi in 2013, the Egyptian military has gained unprecedented power. Now under the leadership of General-Turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has seen the most repressive era in Egypt’s modern history as el-Sisi and the Egyptian military crackdown on human rights

Despite an arms embargo placed on Egypt by the EU (and the UK) following the 2013 coup, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) recorded various arms licences and exports to Egypt applied for by the EU and the UK between 2013 and 2020, amounting to at least £9.84bn (US$12.4bn). In other words, the arms embargo proved largely ineffective, both due to its momentary nature and the longer lifespan of arms as opposed to the period of the embargo itself. 

As part of the consortium Eurofighter (Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo) and MBDA, BAE Systems has exported military equipment and technology to Egypt on multiple occasions. Since 2014, Egypt has received beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-ship missiles. 

Sahel region: Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger

Notably, since 2000, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger - all countries in the Sahel region - have experienced coups. It is hard to make simple comparisons that apply neatly to these countries, but some common themes do apply, namely economic stagnation, corruption, and insecurity. If any lessons are to be learnt from the history of coups it is that they occur most frequently in countries that have previously experienced a coup

Of these countries, we know that BAE Systems has had confirmed trading links with Mali and reported trade with Burkina Faso and Niger.

In Mali, BAE Systems have promoted in their own marketing materials ‘ongoing support’ since 2016 of Swedish RG-32 Scouts.

BAE Systems and MBDA are also reportedly courting Sahelian armies to sell their anti-IED solutions

Of note, the most recent coups in the Sahel – including Chad, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger – have also been led by military officers who had received training from Western governments, such as the US, France and - as AOAV has reported - the UK. For instance, the British Ministry of Defence has, since 2012, trained troops from at least eight nations that have been witness to recent military coups. These international cadets were attendees of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), where all officers of the British Army are trained. The international troops came from Mali, Niger, Egypt, Thailand, Burundi, Sudan, Chad, and Gabon – all countries that have witnessed military coups since 2012.

Section conclusion

These trends underscore the need to ensure greater accountability and transparency from defence companies and governments when supporting countries with histories of coups and human rights abuses. This transparency is critical for the recipient country’s security sector actors, civil society organisations, and media to hold their own governments accountable for how these technologies are used. 

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