Richard Glazebrook

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Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Glazebrook spent 30 years as a British Army officer and, having retired from the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire on 3 April 1985,[1] was immediately re-employed by the Ministry of Defence as an 'RO1' (Retired Officer class 1) on 'technical security'. Retired officers re-employed as civilians in this way are usually on specialist military duties, often with a technical slant. Lt-Col Glazebrook's grade suggests either unusual expertise or a subsequent promotion.

Arms to Iraq

Full article: Arms-to-Iraq

Richard Glazebrook's expertise, the Scott Inquiry learnt in 1993, was nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare - a particularly sensitive area of arms proliferation - which is almost certainly one of the main reasons behind his appointment to the Joint Systems, Operational Requirements, Equipment Security Branch (JSORESB) which examines the technical problems soldiers face in modern war. He told Sir Richard Scott he was involved in drafting key NBC guidelines for the British Army. In a rare glimpse of Richard Glazebrook, the man, as opposed to the professional soldier, he revealed that he brought to bear more than just a technical perspective:

"My father was gassed twice in World War One and from his descriptions of what happened I have a particular hatred of it," he said.

His role on the Arms Working Group (AWG), an MoD group of military advisers which vetted defence exports to Iran and Iraq, took the inquiry to the centre of the system regulating the sale of weapons and related equipment. The AWG determined what could and could not be sold abroad:

"We are desperately concerned that nothing should go which might affect, say, troops deployed in Bosnia at the moment." This meant the interests of selling equipment was overridden on occasions, he said.

Despite being in a job which hugs anonymity like a newly discovered, long-lost friend, the 61-year-old retired Army officer took the open hearings easily in his military stride and set standards of candour other witnesses were expected to follow. Unlike almost every other witness called to testify, Glazebrook chose to sit without a legal adviser at his elbow.[2]

Striking the right balance

Lt-Col Glazebrook said the right balance had to be struck between encouraging exports to help industry and preventing anything detrimental to the interests of British soldiers:

"If you are talking about pure security we would sell nothing to nobody. On the other hand that would make the British manufacturing side broke tomorrow. However, if we are selling the nation's silver, at least you make sure you aren't leaving the door to the safe open so that they can come back and help themselves. That is the balance to be struck, that and just no more."

The AWG vetting the exports was told in February 1990 that defence minister Alan Clark wanted an explanation of why they had objected to three defence export licence applications (ELAs). Glazebrook said he provided "good strong reasons" in a memo to the minister, which said the exports would "erode" any advantage NATO troops had in battle, they would "seriously injure the interests of the nation," and would have "serious implications for the defence of UK interests within the range of Iraqi missiles." He stressed the word serious in capital letters.

He was later told the minister approved one application for a system to detect vehicles. Mr Clark also approved licences for helicopter spares, which had previously been refused.

Export guidelines

Despite the introduction of these guidelines Britain continued to supply military equipment to both Iran and Iraq. In the case of Iraq, the list of products licensed for export between 1987 and 1990 includes aircraft, air defence simulators, armoured vehicles and spares, artillery fire control, depleted uranium, explosive detonators, explosives, fast assault craft, jet engines and parts, laser range finder, mortar locating radar and an automatic vehicle location system.

One lone voice holding out against the flow of arms to Iraq was that of Lt-Col Glazebrook, the MOD official responsible for ensuring sales abroad did not endanger the UK military. In a 1989 report headed British assistance to the emerging Iraqi arms industry he noted that "UK Ltd is helping Iraq, often unwittingly, but sometimes not, to set up a major indigenous arms industry." Britain’s contribution to Iraq, he recorded, included setting up a major research and development facility to make weapons, machinery to make gun barrels and shells, and a national electronics manufacturing complex. Echoing the language of the 1984 guidelines, he concluded that the exports represented "a very significant enhancement to the ability of Iraq to manufacture its own arms."

Glazebrook recommended a tightening of the export guidelines; instead, officials quietly buried the report and the flow of defence equipment continued. Indeed, MOD officials at the Scott Inquiry estimated that UK defence exports to Iraq amounted to some $222 million between 1985 and 1990. However, this figure did not include either exports redirected to Iraq via third party countries such as Jordan, or dual-use equipment such as machine tools.[3]

Matrix Churchill

As the Matrix Churchill affair has revealed, the UK was Iraq’s leading supplier of machine tools, selling $93 million-worth between 1987 and 1989 alone. Moreover, this was done in the knowledge that such equipment was destined for use in military production. Indeed, on one occasion the government was aware that machine tools destined for Iraq could well be used in the development of Saddam’s nuclear weapons programme, yet the then Foreign Office minister, William Waldegrave, was still prepared to sanction their export, justifying it with the comment:

"Screwdrivers are also required to make H-bombs."

A ministerial decision to allow Matrix Churchill to export machine tools, despite reports they were being used to make shells, prompted Glazebrook to write to his superior, Major-General Sir Jeremy Blacker, to say the decision was made on "inadequate information." He was assured that ministers had "all the evidence."

After the Gulf War, UN inspectors subsequently confirmed that Matrix Churchill lathes had indeed been used in the Iraqi nuclear programme.[4]

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