t the time of writing, the British government
has spent £3
billion on the war on Iraq. The world continues to spend
more on arms than it spends on anything else, running at
US $800 billion annually.
The fact that guns kill people is to state the bloody obvious.
Opponents of the arms trade would have us believe that it
is a major contributory factor to conflicts around the world.
Those involved in the trade argue that they are providing
us with necessary defences against those trying to destroy
us, and that arms sales are essential to foster good relations
and also create more jobs at home. As the 17th. century philosopher
Thomas Hobbes once said, "Covenants without the sword
are mere words", meaning laws without ‘armed bodies
of men’ to enforce them mean nothing.
However, Tim Webb, (The Armour-Plated Ostrich, 1998) highlights
the hidden costs of Britain’s addiction to the arms
business. He concludes that weapons manufacture has severely
weakened our economy, and is not the wealth-creating industry
and provider of jobs that its advocates would have us believe.
The slogan of BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace)¸ the
world’s largest arms producer, is: ‘Innovating
for a Safer World’. Its website proudly argues that
it is a ‘company……continuing to play our
part in making the world a safer place’, claiming they
apply ‘innovative thinking and intelligent systems
to make the world a safer place and to protect those who
protect us.’ It says that its vision is ‘to be
the leading systems company, innovating for a safer world.’ What
is meant by a ‘systems company’ is unclear. There
is also much mention of ‘new innovative approaches
to the provision of defence capability’, but no mention
of the word ‘weapons’ could be found on the website.
People and Planet is the largest student network in Britain
campaigning to alleviate world poverty, defend human rights,
and protect the environment. There are groups at over 70%
of the UK’s universities. I was the head of the one
at Kent University from 2001-2002. One of its campaigns is
against the arms trade. It wants to ‘Kick the arms
dealers off campus’ and argues that ‘The arms
trade fuels wars, destroys lives and increases poverty.’ Statistics
produced by the campaign say that ‘there are more than
500 million small weapons around the world: one for about
every 12 people. In the last decade 49 conflicts have been
waged around the world. Six million people have been killed,
90% of them civilians. Half the world's governments spend
more on the military than on health care. Just 1% of global
annual military spending could educate every child on earth
over the next decade.’
People and Planet says that BAE has consistently attracted
criticism for its sale of military equipment to oppressive
regimes and dictatorships with shocking human rights records.
It highlights facts such as that BAE supplied Hawk Ground
Attack aircraft to the Suharto military dictatorship in Indonesia.
Eye witness accounts have spoken of these aircraft attacking
civilians in then illegally-occupied East Timor.
However, this is not illegal, because in late 2001, the
US government lifted restrictions on the provision of police
training and equipment, military spare parts and 'non-lethal'
military articles to the Indonesian armed forces, despite
their continued involvement in grave human rights violations.
Perhaps most shockingly, P&P claims that in 1995 a BAE
salesman offered to supply undercover reporters with electroshock
weapons. He also claimed that 8,000 electroshock batons had
been supplied to Saudi Arabia where systematic torture, including
the use of electroshock weapons, has been described by victims
of the authorities. The sale of torture weapons, which you’d
think would be illegal, is increasing worldwide, according
to an Amnesty report published in February 2001.
So seemingly BAE is not doing anything illegal. But it
is certainly not very moral, and doesn’t really care,
a fact highlighted by Don McClen, a former Public Relations
Director of BAE Systems, who admitted that ‘In this
game sometimes you have to leave your conscience at the door.’
Comparing the People and Planet and BAE websites is revealing.
The former offers facts and statistics, although it does
not say where it obtained its ‘facts’. The BAE
site discusses ‘systems’, ‘technologies’ and ‘innovative
approaches’. It no longer lists its graduate recruitment
events in UK universities, as it was giving the protesters
information as to where to target them. It seems to the casual
observer that BAE has something to hide beneath their techno-babble.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is working for the
reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms
trade, together with progressive demilitarisation within
arms-producing countries. It certainly believes that abolishing
the arms trade would end conflict, and many share this view.
CAAT's new campaign, Fanning the Flames, aims to build agreement
around the idea that we can make a real difference in the
world by stopping the promotion of arms, particularly to
countries engaged in conflict.
One argument is that, even if this thesis holds that defence
is necessary against those threatening us such as “terrorists” and
rogue states, the law needs to be drastically tightened so
that we at least know where our weapons are going, and to
ensure that the UK does not fund oppressive regimes or supply
anyone with torture weapons. But the new Export Control Act
2002, the aim of which is precisely to take these precautions,
has enormous loopholes. UK gun-runners will still be able
to broker sales of equipment unhindered so long as they leave
the UK to conduct their business. Checks are still not made
to ensure arms stay in the countries to which they are sent.
Amnesty International and Oxfam also point out that the government
has admitted it is still unable to track arms exported from
Britain. Arms deals brokered in Britain do not require a
licence if the weapons are shipped from a third country.
Amnesty International has joined with Oxfam to campaign
for these loopholes to be filled, and points out that the
will not fully regulate activities of UK arms brokers operating
offshore, or control the arms shippers who deliver weapons
into human rights crises zones around the globe. It points
out the ridiculous situation that a licence is needed to
marry, drive, fish, fly, and even run a raffle in the UK,
but not to broker arms. If weapons deals are arranged without
the guns ever touching UK soil, then all regulations are
side-stepped. A new arms export bill has been introduced,
but there are significant loopholes in it, which Amnesty
and Oxfam along with others are campaigning to close.
Amnesty International, in its issue of The Terror Trade
Times, argues that 'The G8’s uncontrolled trade in arms
and military aid undermines fundamental human rights and sustainable
examines ways in which military and security exports from
seven of the G8 countries are contributing to human rights
abuses and undermining the prospects for social and economic
development around the world It argues that the US’s ‘War
on Terrorism’, which now seemingly includes Iraq, does
not accompany any reduction in existing US military aid to
countries such as Israel (US$2.04 billion), Egypt (US$1.3
billion), Jordan, Tunisia and Colombia. Nor have military
sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey seen any
decline. The ridiculous hypocrisy of governments is also
too obvious. Though the war in Iraq arguably seems to have
had a reasonably successful conclusion, the main controversy
surrounding the morality of the invasion seemed to be that
there were many varied and vague reasons, one of which was
Iraq possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction, which at the
time of writing have yet to be uncovered. There are many
jokes on this subject, of which one is: Q: How do we know
Iraq has weapons of mass destruction? A: We kept the receipt.
Seven years ago the Scott Report exposed the ‘arms
to Iraq’ scandal. Lord Scott disclosed how British
arms had reached Iraq through third countries - particularly
Jordan and Saudi Arabia - as a result of the failure to monitor ‘end-user
certificates’. Many question the ethics of bombing
a country for possessing weapons that we sold them in the
first place, but then this is true of many regimes that previously
had Western (mainly US) backing but now are seen as a threat:
notably Afghanistan. Amnesty International says that according
to its officials, the CIA gave over US$2 billion in light
weapons to Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan fighting the
Soviet invasion between 1979 and 1989.
There is then a strong argument that if regimes such as
the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and ‘terrorist’ groups
like Al-Qaeda had not been sold the weapons in the first
place, we (the West) would not later need to fight wars against
them when their brutality was no longer turned against our
enemies and stopped being in our interest.
So should there be a ban on advertising and sponsorship
from arms companies? The UK has recently banned tobacco advertising
and sponsorship from tobacco companies is frowned upon, yet
72% of BAE’s production is military, even if they do
also build bridges and like to say that they make the world
a safer place.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry
(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): as long ago as June 1996 stated
a parliamentary debate that: ‘The Government deplore
the use of torture and would never through their general
export services knowingly support the export of equipment
for such purposes, nor grant an export licence from this
country for licensable goods which were to be used for torture.’
However, the trade in torture weapons, including high-tech
electro-shock weapons, leg irons, serrated thumb cuffs, and
stun belts prisoners are forced to wear, is increasing worldwide.
According to Amnesty, the number of countries producing electro-shock
equipment has grown from around 30 in the 1980s to more than
130 now. Some batons, which it calls the ‘favoured
tool of the modern torturer’, even bear the ‘EC’ standard
marking approved by the European Union.
There needs to be far greater regulation of who weapons
are sold to and of what type, in practice rather than just
rhetoric. So closing the loopholes in the export bill is
a crucial step. Wars and weapons are undesirable, and companies
need to have clear ethical guidelines as to who they trade
with. The argument that no weapons equals no more wars
seems to be a rather simplistic, idealistic aim. However,
the arms trade would be an important first step.