All 4 entries tagged Arms Trade
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May 15, 2009
by Barnaby Pace
Originally published in Dissident Warwick Issue 6 31/4/2009
When a company breaks an environmental regulation, it shows that there is some negligence. When a company breaks a few regulations, then the company is probably knowingly not bothering. When a company breaks arms export rules selling to dictators, bribes public officials and spies on those opposing it then what should we make of it? This latter situation is one that we find ourselves in when looking at the largest arms company in the UK; BAE Systems. Sadly it is not a unique case. When investigating the dark pasts of arms companies it is easy to find dirt, but hard to stop finding more and more.
Arms companies in the UK and around the world are not like every other company, and yet they are treated at least as well. We can see a vivid example of this at University of Warwick Careers fairs where arms companies stand side by side with financial houses, telecommunications companies and railway engineers pretending to be normal engineering companies. Our University is happy to promote arms companies and not consider their background. The University believes that keeping good industrial relations brings in research funding and helps maintain their reputation.
A similar situation can been seen at the national level. In 2006, when BAE systems were being pursued by the Serious Fraud Office, the US Department Of Justice (DOJ) and the Scorpions (South African organised crime and corruption investigative unit)[i] and many other groups for six different bribery and corruption cases[ii] and had been recently caught spying on the eminently peaceful Campaign Against the Arms Trade group[iii], then you might think that as the UK government you might cut your losses and disown the company giving them up as a bad lot. However, the Blair government at the time instead chose to shut down the Serious Fraud Office investigation, cease co-operating with the US DOJ investigation[iv] and proceed to hum loudly with its fingers in its ears, deaf to accusations of foul play. In his autobiography, former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook observed “I never once knew number 10 come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace”[v].
This single example, one of many, in which governments support arms companies, is extraordinary and stupefying. Not only are there individual instances of favouring a single company but a systemic issue of unconditional support for the industry. The UK arms export industry employs 65,000[vi] people, yet receives an estimated government subsidy of £851 million per year[vii], this works out to £13,106.30[viii] per employee per year. £13,106.30 might not seem too much if it were being spent on an needy area of society, for example employing teachers or nurses, but instead it goes to an industry run for profit whose interests are not aligned with societal good.
It is important to remember that the arms trade is not run for the benefit of society, the UK or the world. The arms industry is privately owned and run, like any other capitalist organisation, with the aim of accruing profit and accumulating wealth. This is potentially disastrous when the method of making money is by causing and exacerbating conflict and proliferating weapons, to whomever can pay. The immorality or illegality of any deal can be trumped by the opportunity for profit, profit which can easily offset any potential legal issues in the future. Therefore if it is expedient to bribe a government official to persuade them to spend their money, not on development or the fight against AIDS but on purchasing military equipment then an arms company will do so[ix].
Why, despite all the many moral, social, economic and pragmatic issues with the arms industry does our government support companies such as BAE Systems? Do they believe that they receive better equipment for the UK military, when the UK Treasury says that by biasing our military’s arms procurement towards UK arms companies a single arms deal can cost the UK taxpayer £1 billion pounds more than it has to[x]? Indeed you only have to speak to any UK military serviceperson to be told how awful the BAE Systems-made SA80 standard rifle is. If we were to cut the UK’s arms exports by half, we would lose 49,000 jobs. However, with the now available capital and skills from halving arms exports, 67,400 jobs would be created in the civil sector in five years, according to a report by the MOD and York Universityvi. This is due the relative inefficiency of the arms industry. There are few possible reasons left for why the UK government gives the treatment it does. The arms industry is seen by some as a symbol of international killing power. Think of it as top trumps for defence ministers. Both the Conservative and Labour governments have been deep enough into the murky and corrupt world of the arms trade to be unwilling to confess to their crimes now. The UK would be better off without the black mark of its arms industry; we could use those skilled workers working in the industry for purposes that help society, for example creating ways to combat climate change instead of creating the means for death, destruction and misery for people around the world.
[i] “The Arms Deal in your Pocket”, Paul Holden, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2008
[ii] “BAE: A company out of control”, CAAT, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/21/bae.foreignpolicy
[iii] “Martin and Me”, Mark Thomas, The Guardian, 4/12/2007,
[iv] Labour tries to block new BAE inquiry, David Leigh & Rob Evans, The Guardian, 21/9/2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/sep/21/bae.foreignpolicy
[v] The Point of Departure: Diaries from the Front Bench, Robin Cook, 2004
[vi] “The economic cost and benefits of UK defence exports”, Chalmers, Davies, Hartley & Wilkinson, Centre for Defence Economics University of York, November 2001, http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/econ/documents/research/defence_exports_nov01.pdf
[vii] Escaping the Subsidy Trap Why arms exports are bad for Britain”, BASIC, Saferworld & Oxford Research Group, 2004, http://www.basicint.org/pubs/subsidy.pdf
[viii] “As used on the famous Nelson Mandela”, Mark Thomas, Ebury Press, 2006
[ix] BAE corruption investigation switches to Tanzania, David Leigh & Rob Evans, The Guardian, 12/4/2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/12/bae.baesystemsbusiness
[x] “Wrangling ends with order for Hawks”, David Gow & Michael White, The Guardian, 31/7/2003
February 02, 2009
Writing about web page http://www.warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com
Sit in Success
By Barnaby Pace
On the 12th of January a group of students at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London occupied a gallery suite. They were protesting the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the use of the gallery by the Ministry of Defence to recruit and display what the students saw as a sanitised one sided view of war. The occupation was peaceful, with the space reclaimed for teach-ins, lectures, workshops and exhibits. The SOAS occupation succeeded after two days, with the military no longer being allowed to use the room for free, or without consulting the students union in advance and the student occupation being able to use the space for further talks and exhibits for free. This action spurred students all over the country into action and inspired a movement.
In the wake of SOAS’s actions a wave of further occupations occurred. Nineteen have so far occurred at the time of writing, with occupations in SOAS, LSE, Warwick, Kings, Sussex, Oxford, Cambridge, Essex, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds, Queen Mary, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, Kingston, Salford, Bristol, Manchester Met and Bradford. The occupations and sit ins varied in their demands, in their stances on the Gaza conflict and their successes and failings, but student occupations on this scale have not occurred in decades.
I was fortunate to be involved in the Warwick Solidarity Sit In. We had our ups and downs, had moments of doubt, pain and anger but also experienced the joys of learning, reaching out and meeting beautiful new people and hoped that our actions could make a difference and change the world in some small way.
The Warwick Solidarity Sit in began on Wednesday 21st of January 2009, with a group of students walking into a lecture theatre, maybe just like they might on any other day. But these students had a plan, they saw the issues around them, a humanitarian crisis and a university not helping but being complicit in that disaster. Some students had known about the University’s links with the arms trade before; £2 million in researching military projects, promoting arms companies at careers events and refusing to exclude investing University funds in arms companies. It was known that many of the arms companies that the University was helping were selling arms to Israel among their many other clients of tarnished reputation. They saw that because of this their University was in complicit in the death, destruction and suffering they had seen in Israel and Palestine.
The students saw that there was too much variation in their opinions on the conflict to give a definitive position, but they found three defining principles that they could define their action by. Peace, Humanitarianism and the Right to Education, these basic statements informed everything that the sit in group did. The sit in was simple; stay in the room, educate people about the conflict and the issues, express our solidarity with other groups and those suffering in the middle east and try and persuade that University authorities to meet the demands. The group invited speakers, ran workshops and screened films and over time the group grew and evolved. People who had never taken part in a demonstration or a march before took an interest and came along. The Warwick Sit In gathered support, from students simply bringing packets of biscuits and their company, Student Union Sabbatical Officers giving advice, many messages of support being sent by student groups, trade unions, Political parties, academics and individuals from all over the world. The groups enjoyed support from such well known names as Tony Benn, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Avi Shlaim and Peter Tatchell. The group put on talks from among many others, the CEO of Greenpeace International Gerd Leipold, founder of the Corner House NGO Nick Hildyard and local restaurant owner Manal Timraz. Possibly the most striking and best of all the speakers was Manal, a Palestinian refugee, former UN aid worker and somebody who has lost family in the recent Gaza conflict. It was incredibly powerful to hear her speak about the innate value of life and how we must look beyond the small differences between people but see every human being as a person with dreams, ambitions and a life to live. When you think about each individual whose life has been destroyed by war, not just the statistic, you are obligated to act to prevent any further suffering that you can.
The group worked day by day, working against accusations of being disruptive, due to the University moving lectures, against the group’s wishes, to other rooms around the campus. They worked against accusations of being aggressive, made by students who had never visited the space and taken time to visit the space where they would have been welcomed. They worked against accusations of partisanship or anti-Semitism for criticising Israel over other horrors in the world. This was probably the most painful accusation to students many of whom spend much of their time campaigning against the problems in the world, whether through anti-arms groups, anti-racism campaigns, amnesty groups and other campaigning groups. The students tackled these problems the only way that they could, by being as welcoming as possible to all, by laying out ground rules that allowed for free speech and fair discussion and prohibited any aggression, by helping students carry on their studies as free of disruption as possible and by taking all decisions using consensus methods and encouraging everybody to participate.
The sit in succeeded after nine days, after much publicity, negotiations with the university and using all the skills and resources available. The university had agreed to publish a public statement and sit down and negotiate seriously many of the demands. The group called an emergency general meeting of the Students’ Union. With only two days notice, more students attended than at any Students’ Union meeting in over a decade. Nearly four hundred students arrived, debated and celebrated the renaissance of student democracy. The sit in won the support of over 83% of students, which provided the sit in with a huge student mandate. The group is now continuing campaigning for the University to help in sending spare textbooks and computer equipment to schools and universities destroyed, to have the University support a series of high profile debates on the Israel-Palestine conflict and for the University to end its relations with arms companies that profit from the death and destruction in the world.
Despite these successes the struggle and campaign is not over, the university must still acquiesce to the demands, many students still do not know enough and there is still pain and suffering in the world and these must be worked against. Even though these aims are not yet fulfilled, the sit in campaign has succeeded in forging a movement, making new friends and in some small way helping deal with the problems in our world.
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
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