All entries for January 2009
January 30, 2009
By Barnaby Pace (Thanks to Todd Higgs for his editing)
Originally Published 16/1/09 on the CAAT Blog
On Thursday 15 January a group of Warwick University students, in opposition to the arms trade and in solidarity with Gaza, protested at a recruitment event run by BAE and Warwick University Careers Service.
Why BAE? Is it especially unethical? Just look at their record. BAE is the third largest arms manufacturer in the world. So much has come to light in 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.
But this case is not unique – BAE is currently being investigated over bribery allegations Arms companies are often not willing to disclose who their customers are (especially for arms components); this may be common practice among many businesses, citing “commercial confidentiality”. However, most businesses do not need to hide that they sold fighter jets to Robert Mugabe (as BAE and Rolls Royce have) or torture equipment for Guantanamo Bay (BAE subsidiary Hiatts). Nor are reputable business alleged to give a cool £1 million in bribes to the late, but not lamented, General Pinochet (BAE again). All good reasons for protesting and the inclusion of Israel in its (very colourful) list of customers made action particularly important at this time for us.
On their way into the recruitment event, attendees were leafleted with our BAE alternative careers guide. At the start of the presentation, a group of students stood up, with one delivering an excellent and emotive speech about the darker side of a career with BAE. During the talk itself a second group disrupted the presentation with another speech, heroically ignoring the pleas of the Careers Service to be quiet. The many students keen to ask questions about the unethical nature of the company led to the group question session being abandoned.
It is strengthening to be part of a broader campaign across universities against companies such as BAE and after our action we had much excited chatter about activism over a pint or two. And many thanks to all those in the CAAT office who worked to research and write the information used in our handouts.
Want to know more: See http://weaponsoutofwarwick.wordpress.com/
Remember: Universities Day of Action on 11 February 2009
January 26, 2009
Originally published 22/1/09 on the Campaign Against The Arms Trade blog caatblog.wordpress.com
Barnaby Pace updates us on the current wave of anti-arms activism to sweep the nations universities: -
Since 12.30 yesterday a number of Warwick students have occupied our SO.21 lecture theatre. We are demanding firstly that the university help the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict by sending textbooks and computer equipment, restoring the ability of students in the region to use their right to education. The university should inform students about the issues by funding a series of talks on the conflict. Importantly we feel that the university should end its complicity in the conflict by severing its ties to the arms trade. Our university promotes arms companies in an unquestioning positive light at careers events, does research for arms companies in our academic departments and has university finances invested in funds which do not preclude arms trade investments, and this is an unacceptable status quo.
We have been expressing our solidarity with both the students trapped in the Gaza conflict who can no longer continue their education and all the victims of the war. The feeing of solidarity with the other universities where occupations have taken place is also very important. SOAS, LSE, Essex, Birmingham, Sussex, Kings College, Oxford and Newcastle have all had occupations or have ongoing occupations. Messages of support have been hugely empowering we have had a constant stream of messages from other students, Campaign against the arms trade activists, trade unions, political groups, private individuals like Tony Benn and academics like Avi Shlaim.
Right now this feels really big, with this wave of occupations sweeping the country, re-invigorating the anti-war movements in universities that many thought had ended decades ago. It harks back to the days when Warwick University was known as Red Warwick for its campaigning and activist culture. We hope that through these occupations and new generation of student activist will be inspired to resist and campaign against the injustices of our world and fight against the arms trade.
We have been putting on some fantastic talks with representatives of the International Solidarity Movement, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Socialist Party, Stop the War Coalition and others speaking tonight. We were all deeply moved by our speaker last night. Manal Timraz who owns a restaurant in Coventry, the outskirts of which Warwick University is built. Manal spoke about the experiences of her own family in Palestine and experiences as a UN aid worker. She emphasised the uniting nature of humanity and how although we can be personally touched by the people we know who suffer and lose their lives in conflicts, but every life is unique and special and should be mourned, no matter what side of a border they are on, what god they pray to or what their ideas are. We must always remember that every number in the death count is a person with dreams, ambitions and a life to lead. We can hope that maybe if the person who pushed the button to drop the bomb that killed a human being thought about what that bomb would destroy they might reconsider. We hope that those in a factory in England making a small part, that goes into a military aircraft that drops bombs on fellow human beings, will think about what their own work leads to, and might think again about the validity and morality of their work.
We have had our motives questioned by our Jewish-Israeli society, but we have succeeded in convincing them of our genuine belief that every life is precious, and that we can recognise that we are united by our desire for peace in the region. Although we are all deeply political about the issue of Israel-Palestine we understand that we all share this one ideal, and that in our reclaimed space on campus we can discuss the politics and learn about everybody’s positions.
In Coventry the city of Peace and Reconciliation, which has suffered so much from the horrors of war 60 years ago, we should be mindful of the consequences of war were there are only victims. It seems fitting that as part of this national and international effort to help the victims of this conflict we can hope that in some small way our protest might contribute to the ending of the cycle of violence in the region.
We hope that you can support what we are doing and hope that you will follow our protest on our blog at www.warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com
The Cluster Bomb Treaty: Can the Cluster Bomb Treaty Work
by Barnaby Pace
Originally Published in Dissident Warwick No.5 26/1/09
Arms get everywhere. There is, at present, one firearm for every 12 people on the planet, and it is the aim of the arms industry to make as much profit possible by arming any other 11 who can pay. The question then posed is that with weapons spreading everywhere, how can the flow of arms be controlled to curb the worst excesses of the trade? Numerous methods have been posited; from international treaties, arms embargoes and national regulation down to activists smashing fighter jets with hammers, all these methods should be examined carefully so that we may find the most effective in stemming the flows of arms and preventing violence.
In December 2008 more than 100 countries signed up to the cluster bomb treaty, including the UK. The treaty is intended to end the manufacture, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions among the signatory states. Cluster munitions work through dispersing hundreds of small explosive devices across large areas; many of the bomblets land unexploded and will remain as de facto landmines, preventing the use of the land and causing a constant hazard, devastating communities for many years after the end of a conflict. The effects of these weapons are felt most heavily by civilians who make up 98% of 13,306 recorded cluster munitions casualties that are registered with Handicap International, while 27% are children.[i] Once 30 countries have ratified their treaty domestically it will become international law.
There are however significant limitations to the potential effectiveness of the cluster bomb treaty. The treaty allows cluster weapons with up to 10 submunitions (the smaller explosive devices that are released), and allows nations to co-operate with militaries that do still use these weapons (notably among NATO states). Both of these measures watering down the treaty were pushed for by the UK. The UK government was torn between the armed forces who opposed the treaty, and wished to continue using Israeli made cluster munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and DFID (The Department For International Development) who along with the foreign office, saw the moral hazards and the pragmatic issues with winning “hearts and minds” while using these weapons.[ii]
The most serious difficulty in making the cluster bomb treaty work is the notable absence of the USA, Russia and China who, between them, have an estimated 1 billion submunitions stockpiled, Israel, who along with the US and UK have been the heaviest users of cluster bombs[iii], India and Pakistan.
The USA, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and Russia did not subscribe to the Ottawa convention in 1997 either. The Ottawa Convention banned the use of land mines and was signed after years of widespread international campaigning. Despite not signing the Ottawa convention due to the international pressure and the growing taboo around the use of landmines, the US has not used, exported, or produced any antipersonnel landmines since the treaty was negotiated 11 years ago. Attempts have been made to circumvent the treaty; since its signing numerous arms dealers have been caught attempting to sell hand grenades with tripwires, attempting claiming that it was a legal grey area[iv]. It is in the interests of arms companies not to comply with any moral or legal code when profit can be made by ignoring them; their motivation as a corporation is one defined by the pursuit of profit. Forcing armed forces (or corporate mercenaries) not controlled by a government or judiciary to forgo the use of a weapon as cheap and deadly as a landmine is nearly impossible, they have no motivation to obey a law that cannot be applied to them. The only method of stopping the use of landmines in this case is to stigmatise them in every culture so that any soldier will see them as morally wrong and refuse to use them.
The question then that should be asked is whether any arms treaties really can work on a global scale? This becomes even more pertinent with the mooted arms trade treaty that groups such as Amnesty International, Oxfam and War on Want have vigorously campaigned for. Although it may prove to be a step in the right direction controlling the rampant flow of arms on the black and grey markets, some fear that the treaty will be watered down, legitimise the legal arms trade, and serve as nothing more than a PR stunt for politicians. The fear of governments weakening an arms trade treaty are not unfounded, considering many governments’ unconditional support for arms companies and the many cases where illegal arms dealers have been paid by governments to secretly smuggle around the world to assist revolutionaries.[v]
It is my belief that the true turning factor in making such treaties work is not just the signed piece of paper but the social and political movement that has forced governments into accepting the treaty in the first place. Groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Campaign Against the Arms Trade have worked constantly on this issue for many years but what is needed is more than the few dedicated campaigners acting on this largely foreign and hidden issue. At one time Princess Diana became the public face of a widespread campaign to ban landmines, but now we can only appeal to her memory as activist did at DSEI (the bi-annual London Arms Fair) by dying the Princess Diana memorial fountain blood red[vi]. We need a new respected public face that can carry the anti-arms trade message around the world. A building of momentum within our communities is essential to work against this vile trade, to oppose the manufacture and sale of these weapons in our areas. SmashEDO have opposed the EDO bomb factory in Brighton, DisarmDSEI have campaigned against the London arms fair and student Campaign Against the Arms Trade groups have protested against arms companies recruiting and researching on their campuses. The work of dedicated experts, journalists and researchers is crucial to expose the facts about the arms trade and work against the secrecy and PR propaganda that arms companies can propagate. The trade in products designed to kill people is one that must be stigmatised just like the slave trade was, the taboo strong enough that the general public and governments cannot legitimise supporting the arms trade. The campaign to control and end the arms trade must not only make weapons illegal but make it unthinkable for any human to participate in the trade, this must be achieved by making people working in the arms trade see the atrocities big and small that are the ultimate end products of their work.
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[ii] Guardian, 28/5/2008, “Cluster bomb treaty follows UK decision to scrap stockpiles”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/may/28/military.defence2
[iii] Guardian, 3/12/2008, “100 countries join clamour for global ban on cluster bombs”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/03/cluster-bomb-international-convention-signing
[iv] Guardian, 10/5/2002, “UK firm accused of selling landmines”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/may/10/armstrade
[v] See work by Global Witness on the case of Victor Bout for example, http://www.globalwitness.org/index.php
[vi] IndymediaUK, 13/9/2007, “Princess of Wales fountain died red for victims of cluster bombs” https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/london/2007/09/381006.html
January 20, 2009
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.