Britain’s largest science and engineering fair for young people, which took place last month, was sponsored and supported by a total of five major arms companies, including the world’s third largest weapons manufacturer, BAE Systems.
General Dynamics, Rolls Royce, Thales and Selex ES also have sponsorship deals with the Big Bang Fair. As part of the deal, the arms companies enjoy a stand at the fair, from which they can promote themselves to young people.
General Dynamics, the fourth largest defence contractor in the world, provided games and challenges at their stand, boasting on twitter that “everyone is having a go at the Port Security challenge, developed by our team of grads.”
But what General Dynamics didn’t mention was its long history of supplying weapons to repressive regimes and dictatorships. Just recently they won a $132.7bn deal for the sale of 69 MIA2 Abrams tanks to the Saudi Arabian army.
They also won a £85million contract back in 2007 to supply military technology to Colonel Gaddafi’s Khamis Brigade, an elite Libyan unit believed to be behind the massacre of 45 detainees in August 2011.
BAE Systems, the fair’s “lead sponsor”, also had a stand at the fair. But the types of products BAE are best known for selling – fighter aircraft, artillery, missiles and ammunition – were nowhere to be seen. Instead, they impressed kids with a lovable robot and ‘Towers of Hanoi’ game.
Of course, BAE’s record of selling arms to brutal dictators is even worse than that of General Dynamics. In 2011, their weapons were used by the Saudi Arabian army to support the crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain, where human rights groups report that as many as 88 people have been killed during the government’s bloody crackdown on protests. Today, BAE continue to supply arms to some of the world’s most repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE.
So well done to campaigners from Stop the Arms Fair who provided teachers with alternative information about the arms company sponsors and questions for class discussions.
A distorted view of the value of science?
The Big Bang Fair attracted a great deal of interest from the British government, with David Cameron, Vince Cable and the Science Minister David Willetts among the attendees. But it also drew criticism from Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and Science Unstained who raised concerns about the role of arms companies in sponsoring the event.
An article by Dr Stuart Pearson, the Executive Director of SGR, in the New Left Project, argued that the fair offered a distorted view of the value of science. He wrote that “our young scientists and engineers…deserve a better vision for the role of science and technology…not determined by narrow powerful interests such as the large industrial corporations and the military.”
In her blog, Beverley Gibbs responded to Dr. Pearson’s piece by arguing that the presence of arms companies at the Big Bang Fair was not a distortion, but instead reflected the prevalence of the sector in the fields of science and engineering.
But if this is true, it’s only because the arms industry receives an enormous and disproportionate level of government support (weapons exports alone are subsidized by some £700 million a year), while the number of the jobs in the arms trade is actually in decline.
According to Jane’s, a leading defence journal, the arms industry is “set to contract”, whilst the “energy and environmental market is worth at least 8 times” the value of the defence market, and is “set to expand exponentially, especially in the renewable sector.”
In other words, there is enormous potential for a market for green jobs in Britain. Yet in 2011 the government spent 30 times more on arms Research and Development than it did on renewable energy R&D.
If the Big Bang Fair is a mirror, it reflects a sector distorted by disproportionate government support. The future lies elsewhere.