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.

Stop the Arms Fair Week of Action Day 3: No Nuclear

Day three of the #StopDSEI protests saw a morning of back-to-back successful blockades of both entrances to the DSEI site, meaning vehicles carrying weapons and equipment were blocked from getting in.

Continue reading “Stop the Arms Fair Week of Action Day 3: No Nuclear”

Peace activists raise questions about trident at Rolls Royce AGM

Activists raise questions at Rolls Royce' AGM
Activists raise questions at Rolls Royce’ AGM

This morning a group of peace activists from Sheffield used Rolls Royce’ AGM as a chance to challenge the board about their involvement with the development and production of propulsion systems for Trident submarines.

The activists highlighted the fact that power of a Trident submarine is 1000 times more destructive than the bomb used at Hiroshima and asked what the company’s response would be to a Trident nuclear strike, and what they anticipated the impact would be on shareholders.

The activists also held up banners that said “No More Trident” and “Trident Kills.” They asked further questions about alternative uses for Roils Royce engineering expertise, such as green energy to sustain the planet, and whether taxpayers would have to pay for Rolls Royce’s lost investment, if Trident was not replaced.

Continue reading “Peace activists raise questions about trident at Rolls Royce AGM”

The ‘arms for dictators’ scandal isn’t new. It is cross-party, well-established and has been going on for too long

The British government actively promotes the Eurofighter Typhoon to foreign government. This scene comes from  the Farnborough arms fair in 2012.
The British government actively promotes the Eurofighter Typhoon to foreign governments. This scene comes from the Farnborough arms fair in 2012.

The fringe issue of arms export criteria became headline news today (17 July),  with The Independent’s splash on an “‘arms for dictators” scandal. A parliamentary report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) raised a few eyebrows, but the embarrassment of the government approving arms sales to 25 out of 27 of the countries blacklisted as human rights abusers will soon vanish.

Continue reading “The ‘arms for dictators’ scandal isn’t new. It is cross-party, well-established and has been going on for too long”

Cameron takes arms dealers to India

David Cameron has just returned from yet another overseas trade mission – this time to India.

It’s been billed as the largest UK trade mission ever, with over 100 delegates – government ministers, MPs, “leaders of industry”, university grandees and assorted hangers-on. In the name of cementing trade ties we have seen Cameron playing cricket, laying wreaths and promising quicker visas for Indian students.

"Would you like to buy this Eurofighter Typhoon, sir?"
“Would you like to buy this Eurofighter Typhoon, sir?”

All this flummery rather disguises the main aim of the trade mission to flog arms to India, which in recent years has emerged as one of the world’s largest arms buyers. So it is worth having a closer look at who accompanied Cameron and what they might be selling.

Continue reading “Cameron takes arms dealers to India”

Green sees red over arms sales

Why did Lord Green take the Trade Minister post when he clearly had problems with the ethics of arms sales? Kaye Stearman ruminates on ethics, religion and arms sales.

What started out green, then rapidly turned yellow, white and red?. No, it’s not a chameleon. It’s the new UK Trade Minister. Why? Well, he is called Green, quickly turned yellow, waved the white flag of surrender, and then grew red with embarassment – as did the government. 

Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint takes his seat in the House of Lords
Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint takes his seat in the House of Lords

This is the background to the riddle. For months the Coalition government had been seeking a Trade Minister, someone with gravitas and international contacts,  to act as a public face of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). They thought that they had hit the jackpot with Lord Stephen Green of Hurstpierpoint – after all he is a newly appointed Tory Lord just stepping down from the Chairmanship of banking giant HBSC and an ordained Church of England priest. What’s not to like?

Lord Green’s dilemma

Unfortunately Lord Green is reputed not to like weapons companies, so much so that he decided that HBSC would no longer provide financial services to those companies who manufactured arms such as landmines, cluster bombs and combat aircraft. However, according to the Telegraph of 7 January, “the bank retains BAE Systems as a client and its senior non-executive director, Sir Simon Robertson, is chairman of Rolls-Royce”,  so clearly the adversion to arms goes only so far. Continue reading “Green sees red over arms sales”

Warwick’s unethical career services

Barnaby Pace writes

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.
Continue reading “Warwick’s unethical career services”

“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.
Continue reading ““Merchants of Death” guided tour.”

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.
Continue reading “London CAAT Map Activism Award”

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.
Continue reading “Can I interest you in any missile components today?”