The UK Arms Industry

When campaigning against the arms trade, I’ve always found it interesting how few people disagree with the moral case we’re making. Discounting those few rare souls who see the production of weaponry, in itself, as a morally worthy activity, the general opinion tends to be one of resigned acceptance. That there is a demand for such weaponry is seen to be a sad fact of life and that supplying this demand benefits our economy an unfortunate boon. After all, if we didn’t do it, surely someone else would?

Yet the initial perception of inevitability demands examination. Certainly, leaving aside more utopian aspirations, we can accept armed conflict as a sad fact of global politics. Yet the vast industrial and commercial machinery which exists to service this demand is no such given. The arms industry is not just supported by government (as, perhaps, one might expect to happen with regards to any major industry) but is in fact subsidised to a rather considerable degree. The full extent of the subsidy is estimated to stand at up to £890 million per year. Given around 65000 people working in the arms trade within the UK, this roughly amounts of each job costing the tax payer over £13000 a year in subsidy. Until this year when, hopefully as a sign of things to come, Gordon Brown announced the decision to close it, the defence export service organisation (DESO) existed within Government solely to market and sell UK arms. Employing nearly 500 civil servants within the Ministry of Defence, the head of DESO was a post always filled by an arms industry executive with a portion of his salary ‘topped up’ by the arms industry. Could you imagine the outcry if the department of health had a similar organisation working within it at the taxpayers expense to promote pharmaceutical sale? Yet DESO was sadly indicative of the connections between government and arms industry and they extend far beyond it.
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Students campaigning against arms investments plan to meet in July

Back in March a few anti-arms trade campaigners from UCL, Warwick and Nottingham met in London to discuss the “Unis against the arms trade National Action Day” held in February. It was really great and inspiring to hear what other students at other unis are up to.  One of the things we all wanted was to try and arrange as many opportunities as possible to meet and swap experiences and ideas.

So – if you are a student campaigning against your uni investing in the arms trade here’s the next opportunity to meet up and discuss the issue:
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“Merchants of Death” guided tour.

London CAAT decided on a “Merchants of Death” walk as The thirteen companies we visited.one part of our “Stop the Arms Trade Week”. Rather than a series of protests, this was a more sedate tour of Central London, with descriptions of certain companies thrown in. So thirteen of us met outside Victoria station and even had the sun shining on us. In terms of the types of companies we went to, there was a clear distinction.

Obviously, we took in major military producers and arms dealers such as BAE Systems, Boeing UK, Rolls Royce, Lockheed Martin (including INSYS), QinetiQ, MATRA BAe, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Land Rover Leyland International Holdings. Among such “Merchants of Death” there is a long history of corruption, sometimes involving countries with serious records of human rights abuse, which underlines how indiscriminate the trade is.
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BAE Systems AGM, 7 May 2008

My BAE AGM virginity was about to come to an end as I entered the Queen Elizabeth Conference centre, where no expense had been spared on lavish security measures to welcome proxy shareholders like myself. The BAE chairman Dick Olver’s introductory statement included a shareholder-pleasing boast about a 13.3% proposed increase in the 2007 dividend. However, much of his presentation was devoted to this year’s hot topic, business ethics. He acknowledged the reputational damage that the whole SFO affair had done but kept stressing that “our” company had never been found guilty of any wrongdoings in four years of SFO scrutiny, conveniently omitting the fact that the investigation was halted just as it was making good progress unearthing useful details from Swiss bank accounts.
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Back in Court – Appeal Hearing

As everybody knows, truly great baddies never really go away but always return for an epic sequel. This time, part two will be played out in the House of Lords, as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has decided to launch an appeal against the judgement previously won by CAAT and The Corner House.

This next fight will be premised upon the SFO’s claim that ‘public interest’ demands the case is heard by the highest court in the land. Judges Moses and Sullivan agree, whilst CAAT people know that the dark side is always defeated in the end, one way or another, and so are happy to have the case heard again. As such, both tribes are laying down plans for the what is likely to be the greatest fight the Lords have ever seen.

The preliminary hearing for the appeal took place last week in one of the history-addled, cavernous rooms at the High Court in London. Anyone is welcome to attend any such hearing unless they are specifically closed to the public, and finding this one open to all I went along to watch the action live.
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High Court Ruling: Hot off the press

“You’ve arrived at a good time” I was hailed whilst I scanned the lunch table licking my lips in anticipation, and I suppose I had! Hello, my name is Todd, recent addition to the CAAT team in the capacity of a rather wet behind the ears media volunteer. So it was with some trepidation and considerable excitement that in only my second week on the job CAAT earned a landmark victory in court. As some of you will know, last week the High Court ruled that the Government acted illegally in preventing the Serious Fraud Office investigating accusations of corruption and bribery levelled at the paragons of morality and transparency that are the Saudi Royal family. The allegations in question concern a string of transactions relating to arms dealers BAE systems. BAE are a company who espouse more moral indifference to their stock trade than a fox hunter with sidelines in battery farming and extraordinary rendition flights. In a stunning and momentous blow against the power of Britain’s ever presidential executive Lord Justice Moses ruled that “no one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice.” The enduring pressure and hard work put in by CAAT and The Corner House had received an epic official justification.
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CAAT Press Conference As CAAT Wins Landmark Case Against Government

April the High Court handed down a ruling in favour of CAAT and The Corner House, finding that the government had buckled under pressure from a Saudi prince and unlawfully ended the investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Given the landmark status of the Court’s judgment a press conference was held to field the massive media interest, and arriving early before the ruling was made public, the tension and sense of trepidation in the air was tangible.

Having never met a journalist before (never mind attended a press conference) I shared in the mood of nervous excitement as I helped to welcome and register the mixed bag of scruffy ruffians and suit-clad media people that would constitute our audience. Weaving through the throng I overheard a well-known journalist speaking on his mobile phone. He described the Court’s judgement as ‘withering’ and said he’d never heard anything like it. Despite the unassuming look of many, their tardy tendancies and willingness to squash into a room already packed to the rafters, journalists are tough. They often hold a lot of sway in whether and how the public recieves a story, and this press conference would be a crucial chance for CAAT to elucidate a stronger stance for supporters and answer back to critics. Representatives from two dozen media houses attended, reflecting the truly national implications of CAAT’s court case and maximising exposure for an important but oft-overlooked cause.
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Blackwater

The name Blackwater first seriously entered the popular consciousness on September 17th 2007 when 17 Iraqi civilians were shot dead by Blackwater employees, working as ‘security contractors’, in an affluent neighbourhood of Baghdad. The Iraqi government’s investigation found that, contrary to the claims of the Blackwater corporation, the security contractors had not been attacked. A parallel US congressional investigation, presumably quite well disposed towards the corporation given that it was the US government who had contracted out defence work to Blackwater, found that their use of force had been “excessive” and “pre-emptive”. Quite reasonably the Iraqi government asked that Blackwater and their men be held to account. Yet this was impossible because the US occupying forces had granted government contractors immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. However as subcontractors, rather than US government employees, they’re not subject to military discipline. In effect they operate in a complete legal vacuum.
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London CAAT Map Activism Award

A London CAAT map on platial.com has won a site award in the “Activism” category. The map, called London Arms Trade, shows the locations of the offices of weapons manufacturers and distributors in London.

When the local London group was set up, it was determined to highlight the immorality of the ‘defence’ industry. The map was created using CAAT’s resources and the British Defence Equipment Catalogue, to begin to pinpoint those involved in making London the capital of the world arms-broking trade.
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Can I interest you in any missile components today?

UK Students tell their universities it’s time to ditch their arms shares

On 27 February Students across Britain joined protests against their universities’ links with the arms trade. They called for an end to university arms investments. Students dressed as arms dealers roamed the campuses of University College London (UCL), Warwick, Manchester and other universities and tried to “sell” toy guns and missiles to their fellow students to raise awareness about the links between their universities and arms companies.

Student campaigners at UCL wearing black suits and sun glasses approached fellow students with the opening line “Excuse me, can I interest you in any missile components today ?” Many students, staff and prospective students, who had a look around UCL that day, stopped to sign a petition and to talk to campaigners about the continued arms investments.
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