“I am investigating a suspicious, potentially illegitimate, call to an employee of a firm on whose behalf I am now calling,” said the man with the Scottish accent dialling from an unknown number. He refused to divulge his name or the firm to which he was connected, but it was clear that he was linked to Raytheon. Earlier that day I had placed a call—inadvertently interrupting a Secret Santa exchange—to a worker at the US defence giant’s arms factory in Glenrothes, Fife. It is the plant that puts the “smart” in the “smart bombs” that Saudi Arabia is dropping on Yemen.
Raytheon’s Scottish factory builds the electronics systems for precision-guided bombs. The factory’s signature line is circuit boards for the Paveway IV, a 500-pound, all-weather, laser-and-GPS-guided bomb. Raytheon has all sorts of customers, the RAF included. But since the Saudi Royal Air Force started bombing Yemen in 2015, these Paveways have also been much sought after by the Saudi government.
The war, which has left over 100,000 dead and millions displaced, costs the Saudi government an estimated £50bn a year, a significant chunk of which is spent on US and British weaponry that the UN says is being used to “target civilians… in a widespread and systematic manner.” Death, displacement, disease and acute hunger now form the contours of life for the 80 per cent of the Yemeni population—22m people—who are in need of humanitarian assistance. In late 2018, the UN’s top official in the Middle East at its children’s agency Unicef stated: “Yemen today is a living hell.”
Raytheon has used the slogan “strike with creativity,” and its precision bombs have been discovered in the wreckage of hundreds of civilian sites in Yemen including hospitals, schools and infrastructure indispensable to the civilian population such as granaries, groundwater pumps and water tanks. While Raytheon is not, of course, responsible for any particular decision to bomb civilian targets, it does have to abide by the law when it comes to the export of weapons to those countries engaged in dirty wars. And responsibility for overseeing those laws lies squarely with the government.