Coronavirus and the Arms Trade

We hope all CAAT’s supporters are well and keeping safe. A lot of CAAT’s work will be evolving over the coming months as we adapt to the current crisis. Staff are working remotely, local group meetings and activities are moving online, and we’re looking at how Covid-19 interlinks with our different areas of work.

Some parts of the arms trade are on hold too. The biennial arms fair at Farnborough, where weapons were due to be promoted to military buyers from around the world, has already been cancelled. But in other areas it’s important we maintain our scrutiny.

Increase in state powers and policing

From ramped up surveillance of citizens in China and Singapore to accusations of a racist, politicised response in Sri Lanka, governments globally are responding with measures that some fear could outlast the pandemic, and further harm marginalised groups. 

The UK Government’s COVID-19 Bill contains powers lasting two years which give police new rights to detain people. While this may make some feel safer, it’s a worrying move while people of colour are already subjected to disproportionate levels of detention and state violence in the UK. Read more about the new laws.

There is already evidence of ‘authoritarian leaders using the Covid-19 crisis to tighten their grip’ with the pandemic used to advance Orban’s power grab in Hungary – and the government’s control in Cambodia, while  teargas and other crowd-control equipment has been used to violently enforce controls.

Yemen 

As yet there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 within Yemen, but five long years of catastrophic war have destroyed its healthcare system. Ahmed Aidarous, 36, a resident of the southwestern city of Taiz, told the Middle East Eye, “Advanced countries like America are unable to fight coronavirus so Yemen will be an easy victim for corona as there is no good health system or good leadership that can help.”

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government has closed schools and cancelled all flights, which had only just resumed for people who needed to leave the country to access healthcare abroad. Mwatana for Human Rights reports that at least 45 people had already lost their lives waiting for promised humanitarian flights to access healthcare.

We took action this month to mark five years of war in Yemen, and stand together in solidarity and resistance. While coronavirus means there is a risk that the  war is forgotten, it’s as important as ever that we keep up the pressure for peace and end UK arms sales.  

Borders

Protestors hold a banner saying 'Borders kill' at a demo outside the Home Office, February 2020
Activists protest the Home Office and its Hostile Environment policies, February 2020.

The first case of Covid-19 has been diagnosed at Yarl’s Wood, the immigration detention Centre in Bedford which holds survivors of torture and sexual violence, and where racist verbal, physical and sexual abuse have been reported. Already experiencing high levels of mental distress and self harm, now detainees face the risk of infection by Covid-19.

The Centre is run by the world’s 73rd largest arms company Serco Group, who work closely with the UK military sector, winning £92m of Ministry of Defence contracts in 2018. A legal case related to the health crisis forced the Government to release 300 detainees recently, but thousands remain detained across the UK. There have been over 30 deaths reported in UK immigration centres, and thousands of attempted suicides.

CAAT is developing its thinking around UK borders policy, as the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration strategy is part of a wider racist, state sponsored violence that keeps weapons flowing to countries where they predominantly harm people of colour.

It is also some of the same arms companies profiting from weapons sales causing many to flee their homes which profit again when they win lucrative contracts to provide security services and surveillance technologies at increasingly militarised borders. Find out more about the companies profiting twice. 

Arms to ventilators?

 In these turbulent and challenging times we will be looking for hope too – that in future when governments tell us things can’t change, we know that change can come almost overnight when the political will is there. 

Rolls Royce, who produce military aircraft engines, and aerospace companies like Airbus which profit from the sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, have been called on by the UK government to help produce components for ventilators in the fight against coronavirus. The case for moving our engineering skills from industries that take lives to ones that save them has never been stronger.

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, recently called government economic stimulus packages in response to the coronavirus crisis as “a historic opportunity” to tackle the climate emergency.  “This is a huge opportunity we cannot miss,” he said. “Here the issue is not only the level of money but the direction of the money”.

Find out more about the call to convert jobs in arms manufacturing to greener, more socially useful industries in the New Lucas Plan

A small hand sewn banner reads 'Choose people', hung at the DSEI arms fair week of action, 2019
A banner at the DSEI arms fair week of action, 2019.

Rethinking ‘security’

We can also see more than ever that our security is not advanced by wars, or by spending billions on nuclear weapons systems and aircraft carriers, but by building fairer societies that support the most vulnerable, and by investing in our public services like the NHS and social care.

Let’s work together to ensure that out of this crisis we create a Just Recovery, and build a world where real human needs, are prioritised.

Five years of war in Yemen

Today we stand in solidarity with Yemen. At a time when millions of people across the world are concerned about food supplies and the ability of our health systems to respond to crisis, Yemen must not be forgotten.

Today marks five years since a Saudi-Arabian led coalition began bombing Yemen – five years in which Yemen’s health system has “almost collapsed.”

Continue reading “Five years of war in Yemen”

Covid19: Solidarity in a time of crisis

As the UK enters lockdown and introduces social distancing measures to combat the spread of covid19, we’re asking local groups and campaigners to take their work online, and to cancel or postpone meetings and events. This is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice to the public to practise good hygiene, frequent hand washing, and social distancing. You can read more about what this means on the WHO website. Continue reading “Covid19: Solidarity in a time of crisis”

Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes,

Journalist and researcher Phil Miller has just released a new book, Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes, which explores the shameful role of mercenaries in fuelling war and human rights abuses.

Profiting from war is one of the most controversial aspects of UK foreign policy. The debate normally centres on why British bombs are being sold to a belligerent ally. However, the arms industry will always defend its business on the grounds that its staff never pull the trigger, and that any subsequent casualties are therefore not its responsibility. Or as the chairman of Britain’s largest arms dealer, BAE Systems, modestly told shareholders in 2019: ‘[We] provide defence equipment that ultimately encourages peace.’

Continue reading “Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away With War Crimes,”

Security & Policing 2020

Protestors hold a big red banner that states 'Borders Kill' and blue flares outside the Home Office

Security and Policing is an annual event organised by the UK government’s Home Office and the arms industry trade body, ADS. The event is a place where arms, border, policing and surveillance companies work and exhibit equipment and technologies together. Government delegations from across the world are invited by the the government’s arms sales unit, Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), and so the fair is an opportunity for relationships to be built and developed between these industries that work so closely together, but also with governments and states. 

Continue reading “Security & Policing 2020”

‘Arms dealers feast, while Yemenis are starved’: ADS Dinner protest round-up

Activists outside the ADS dinner, Wednesday 22nd January 2020

Arms dealers are busy people. If they’re not burning the midnight oil securing the next dirty deal, they are likely schmoozing and networking at fancy industry events and receptions, dining on three-course meals, feasting on banquets and enjoying the company of other high net worth individuals.

Highlights from our 2020 ADS Dinner demo. All images by Richard York of Rainbow…

Posted by Campaign Against Arms Trade on Tuesday, 18 February 2020
ADS Dinner Protest – image by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

And the story was no different last month, on Wednesday 22nd January, when arms dealers convened at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House hotel for the annual Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS) dinner, which brings together arms dealers, MPs and military personnel to schmooze, swill champagne, and feast on expensive food. At the same time, 14 million Yemeni people are at risk of famine, starved as a result of the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of their country. Many of the bombs are made by the arms companies present, and have been sold with the support of the politicians in attendance.

ADS Dinner Protest – image by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

Over 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since war in Yemen broke out in 2015, including 12,000 civilians in directly targeted attacks. The war in Yemen has caused one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The UK government is directly involved in causing this suffering; only legal action from CAAT has forced the government to review arms sales to Saudi. Meanwhile, UK-made planes are dropping UK-made bombs in Yemen, and UK arms sold to Turkey have been used in the decimation of the Kurds. UK arms sales fuel death, destruction and violence across the globe.

ADS Dinner Protest – image by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

A number of activists and came together on a bitingly cold January night to make our resistance known. As well as chants and songs, messages of solidarity were read out, reminding us of why it is imperative we insist to those dining that they cannot eat in peace, whilst being responsible for suffering and wickedness.

The people
United
Will never be
Defeated!

ADS Dinner Protest – image by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

As with previous years, ADS has managed to keep the guest list a tight-lipped secret, meaning as yet we are not clear on the exact politicians and representatives who attended, however, we were thrilled to successfully dissuade Clare Balding from being this year’s keynote speaker, to the dismay of a few attendees (see: #ClareFail on Twitter).

Other highlights of this year included the presence of young people from Woodcraft folk dressed as Grim Reapers, in-keeping with our ‘dining with death’ theme. We also riled up a few arms dealers on their cigarette breaks, who were insistent that actually they are ‘reasonable human beings’ working in ‘engineering’.

Our response?

Shame
Shame
Shame on you!

ADS Dinner Protest – image by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

Nothing much is certain in these uncertain times, but we can guarantee that so long as arms dealers dine in London annually, we’ll be right there challenging them, adding an awkward – if not bitter – taste to their banquet.

Blog post written by Siana – Training & Events Co-ordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade

Want to see more images from our ADS dinner action last month? Check out the full album on Facebook by clicking here: ADS 2020 Album

ADS Dinner Action 2020

Highlight video of ADS dinner action outside Grosvenor House Hotel on Wednesday 22nd January 2020.Film by Richard York, Rainbow Collective

Posted by Campaign Against Arms Trade on Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Highlights video from ADS Dinner 2020 – filmed and edited by Richard York, Rainbow Collective
(You can also watch directly on Facebook by clicking this link: https://www.facebook.com/campaignagainstarmstrade/videos/219839609145624/ )

New CAAT report on Military Expenditure and Climate Change

The UK government spends about £46.6 billion a year on the military, according to figures provided by the UK to NATO, or 2.1% of GDP.

* Government investment for a greener and fairer economy, Cafod, FoE, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, Islamic Relief, the WI, RSPB, and WWF, Sepember 2019.

After several years of relative austerity, this military budget is now firmly on the rise, with a 10% real-terms increase since 2015, and more increases promised.

How much, in comparison, does the UK spend on preventing climate change? There are no official figures, but a recent report by an NGO coalition* estimated annual spending on “climate change and nature” to be £17 billion, which they called to increase to £42 billion.

“The first duty of government is the security of the nation and its people” – such clichés are frequently trotted out in Government military and security policy documents; but the “security” in question is almost always seen in terms of state security, centring on the military and other “hard” security tools (such as border control).

This militaristic outlook is not simply about defending the UK from military attack – a remote prospect as even the government admits – but about using armed force to attempt to solve a wide range of problems, be it terrorism or regional tensions and conflicts.

This approach has led to a series of disastrous military interventions that have made the problems they sought to address far worse. It also reflects the idea that military power is the key to the UK’s status in the world, with ministers seeing a global military presence at the core of “Global Britain” post-Brexit.

But “security” does not have to be seen in these terms. A focus on sustainable, human security would reinterpret the “first duty” of government in terms of ensuring the security of people in the UK – and, inseparably, of people around the world – from the threats they actually face, which are overwhelmingly not susceptible to military “solutions”.

Most importantly, by far the biggest and most urgent threat to people’s security, including in the UK, is climate change, which is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide. Yet, while the government has accepted a target of reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 (which many see as too slow), it has not backed this up with the policies and resources needed to achieve it. The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned this year that the UK is missing almost all its targets for carbon reduction.

The CCC estimates that achieving net zero by 2050 would require investment of between 1–2% of GDP per year. Yet this is seen as unrealistic by a government that sees 2% of GDP as the absolute minimum to be spent on the military, to meet NATO’s 2% target for its members – with ministers (backed by the arms industry and its supporters) calling for far higher spending. This represents a distorted set of priorities, fuelled by a distorted, militaristic view of security, which urgently needs to change. Right now, the first duty of every government should be tackling the climate crisis.

‘Fighting The Wrong Battles – How Obsession With Military Power Diverts Resources From The Climate Crisis’ is a new report by Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman. Read the full report

Shining a spotlight on arms trade corruption

The Attorney General’s office has been sitting on corruption charges in relation to arms deals with Saudi Arabia for nearly two years.

A new Attorney General (the government’s chief legal adviser) was appointed in February and her approval is necessary for the case to proceed. CAAT is calling on her to ensure the case moves forward. Add your voice.

Human rights campaigners protest against Farnborough International arms fair
Continue reading “Shining a spotlight on arms trade corruption”

Stop the Saudi arms shipments

This Wednesday the Saudi Arabian cargo ship Bahri Yanbu is due at Tilbury docks.

CAAT is concerned that this ship is carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen, where there is a serious risk they will be used in violations of international humanitarian law. We are also concerned that it may be collecting further UK-made military equipment while it is at Tilbury.

Protesting at Tilbury docks before the ship’s arrival
Continue reading “Stop the Saudi arms shipments”