Merchants of Death
By Barnaby Pace
Originally published in the Warwick Boar 20/1/09
There is a group in the world that facilitates murder, evades the legal system, spies on its enemies and is implicated in war crimes, terrorism and genocide, and no I am not talking about the Bush administration right now. I am in fact referring to the global arms industry. It is alone in its reckless pursuit of profit through selling products designed to kill to whoever they can. Arms dealers can take many forms, from the seedy gun runners who transport weapons violating UN embargoes to Liberia, Somalia or North Korea, but more often those in the arms trade appear more like the average businessman or worker. However these two extremes of appearance cannot be separated, it is the big companies of this world that produce the weapons that end up all over the world, you cannot talk about Victor Bout (portrayed in the film Lord of War) without talking about companies such as BAE Systems or Lockheed Martin who make the weaponry in the first place.
In a capitalist based world the arms trade’s primary motive is profit, through selling weapons to whoever can pay, unsurprisingly those who pay often intend to use the weapons, this often conflicts with the legality and morality of the rest of society. As an arms company gets larger, it can pay for better political connections and better public relations, but the conflict between its activities and what it would like to admit is always there. The topic has become much more obvious over the last few years with the discoveries, investigations and court cases surrounding the Al-Yamamah arms deal to Saudi Arabia, in which BAE systems was the primary supplier of weaponry. It is alleged that BAE paid over £1 billion in bribes to members of the Saudi Regime. This case is not unique; BAE alone is currently being investigated for six other bribery cases around the world. Arms companies are not willing to disclose their customers, this may be common practice among many businesses. Most businesses however do not need to hide that they sold fighter jets to Robert Mugabe (as BAE and Rolls Royce have), torture equipment for Guantanamo Bay (BAE subsidiary Hiatts), or gave £1 million in bribes to General Pinochet (BAE again). This is merely a taste of what has been uncovered about the arms industry.
Arms companies frequently attempt to defend their activities, claiming that they are essential for employment, despite the huge subsidy they receive amounting to an estimated £13,153.23 per arms trade job. They claim to be essential for national security yet sell to anyone they can and skew our own military’s equipment purchases. They claim that “If we didn’t do, someone else would”, a defence heroin dealers would love if it worked in court. Occasionally they might be more blunt, “Sometimes people need to be killed!” as the Head of Communications at BAE Systems told me. Arms companies must be forced to account for their actions and therefore what is needed is not PR but an examination of the facts.
I feel that everyone should know these facts about arms companies. I especially feel that students who might think about applying for jobs with arms companies should know these facts. Yet our own university inform students at all. Instead every few weeks an arms company will come and recruit on campus, spreading their own propaganda about their company, promoted and legitimised by the Careers Service. You might see some protestors outside the building handing out leaflets, asking arms industry representatives searching questions at their stalls, or unveiling t-shirts detailing facts about arms companies in the fair before being escorted out by security, believing that T-shirts with facts about arms companies are too disruptive. The Careers Service should be assisting students to learn the full facts about potential employers, instead the careers service advertises for companies, no matter their quality, and does not allow the negative side of the company to be seen. It is left to the handful of anti-arms trade campaigners to attempt to inform students about these companies’ dirty dealings that they will not include in their recruitment pitch. I am proud to be a part of the Weapons out of Warwick campaign, who oppose these merchants of death whose profits come at the unacceptable cost of causing the deaths of millions and untold suffering around the world.