Joe Lo argues for Left Unity to take a stand on the arms trade.
For me, Left Unity should have 4 key principles to build our party upon: peace, democracy, environmental survival and social justice. The arms trade represents the ultimate affront to all four and, in September, the arms trade, in all it’s blood-drenched finery, will come to London for the DSEI arms fair, one of the biggest in the world. We should be there, along with the Stop the Arms Fair Coalition, to meet it.
So why does the arms trade violate these principles? Well, with peace, it’s obvious. Some would argue that “guns don’t kill people, humans do”. Welsh comedy rappers, Goldie Looking Chain, would be more specific in arguing that “guns don’t kill people, rappers do”. While there’s an element of truth in this, there’s also significant evidence that the availability of weapons is likely to intensify, deepen and prolong conflict. Particularly in the era of modern wars that are increasingly fought by multiple, non -state actors who often have more to gain from conflict and the economic opportunities it presents than from peace. The availability of arms in Libya was a significant factor in causing the recent conflict in neighboring Mali. Syria could be the same. In 2011, 8 out of the 55 countries represented at DSEI were involved in major conflicts. Some of them, like India and Pakistan, are in conflict with each other. More simply though, there is a powerful truth in the argument that every bullet that kills a human being, is produced and sold somewhere, and, wherever that is, it can be resisted.
Secondly, democracy. As the Arab Spring showed, humans have a universal urge to control their own lives, to live in democracies. It is only the entrenched power of ruling elites that can prevent them. Power comes from arms and many of those arms are sold at DSEI. Many Turkish citizens were recently killed by security forces. Turkey is regarded as a “priority market” for weapons sales by the British government and came to the 2011 DSEI fair. Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also attended that fair and subsequently used weapons against their own citizens to suppress democracy.
Thirdly, the environment. This argument is less obvious. Like many big businesses with image problems, the arms trade goes to great lengths to appear environmentally-friendly. The appearance of “carbon-neutral” bullets in 1999 drew widespread mockery. In fact, the environment may have the most to gain if the arms trade were to wither away. The millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that is used to subsidise the arms trade could be pumped into a Green New Deal instead. Jobs may be lost in the arms trade but many more would be gained as renewable energy is a more labour-intensive industry. Supporters of the arms trade often argue that it helps protect our nation from it’s enemies. Firstly, it doesn’t. In some cases it literally provides ammunition for our enemies, (for example when a company part-owned by Britain’s BAE Systems sold missiles to General Gadaffi). Secondly, climate change is far more of a threat to our security than any enemy that could be defeated with conventional weapons. Despite this, successive British governments have pumped money into arms whilst only paying lip service at best to renewables. In 2011, the government spent 30 times more on research and development into arms than into renewables.
Finally, social justice. Both at home and abroad, the arms trade tramples over fairness. As mentioned above, it soaks up public money that could be used to raise the minimum wage or build houses for the homeless. It maintains these subsidies through lobbying. The former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said “In my time I came to learn that the Chairman of British Aerospace appeared to have the key to the garden door to Number 10. Certainly I never once knew Number 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace“. Overseas, British arms companies are less subtle, often simply bribing corrupt public officials for contracts. In 2011, BAE Systems allegedly bribed the Attorney General of Tanzania to persuade him to buy an Air Traffic Control System. The system was sold at ten times the cost it should have been and, more importantly, Tanzania doesn’t have an air force so has no need for a military air traffic control system.
All this means that the DSEI arms fair simply must be stopped. What’s more it can be stopped. A similar fair in Australia was prevented from going ahead in 2008 by direct action, lobbying and mass protests. The Stop the Arms Fair Coalition is a broad, energetic and radical non-violent campaign group that is making huge strides towards making the Arms Fair impossible to run, or at least to renew. Left Unity supporters should be at the forefront of the campaign, fighting for justice as strongly as we always have done. If the arms trade is stopped, it will be a huge step towards creating the kind of society we want to see.
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