As Cardiff prepares to host the Defence, Procurement, Research, Technology and Exportability exhibition (DPTE) on 16th March, why is one the most immoral forms of profiteering often absent from mainstream media and exempt from political condemnation? 100 years from now will the concept of businesses amassing fortunes from oppression, death and torture be nothing but a dark chapter engraved into the history books? I fear not. The current reality of the atrocities man commits against one another suggests no derailment of this industry is in sight. If anything, these hidden suppliers of destruction remain as unaccountable as ever. Neville Chamberlain once stated: “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” Not true. War is a big business and Britain has benefited massively.
The Price of Profit
Only surpassed by the U.S.A, Britain lies claim to the third largest arms company in the world: BAE Systems. Responsible for the sale of billions of pounds worth of arms to countries around the world, BAE Systems is one of the leading beneficiaries from the War economy. Sales rose by 7.6 percent in 2015 to a staggering £17.9bn; additionally, the company’s share price exceeded prior predictions.
So who are the customers? Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey to name but a few. As its principle client, BAE sells weapons, aircraft, drones and missiles to Saudi Arabia which, as an investigation now gets underway, are all being used in the current bombardment of Yemen. If conclusive evidence is found this will stand as a breach of international human rights law and could trigger calls for the UK government to be indicted for war crimes. And rightly so. Yet, this isn’t the first time either; BAE supplied the tactica armoured vehicles used by Saudi Arabia in 2011 to crush pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. BAE provides Israel with means to wage war on Palestinians and supplied display units which were used to equip Israeli F-16 fighter jets. In an another recent sale, it supplied Turkey with tanks which were used against minorities in Kurdish regions in 2015. In all of this, each sale is granted and licensed by the UK government. A careless rubber stamp to legitimise state brutality.
Other UK companies which make up the top 100 list include Babcock International, Sarco and Cobham, to name but a few. Combined, these companies along with BAE Systems, made up 10.4 percent of the total $401 billion worth of weaponry sold globally in 2014. An amount which has continued to grow. And don’t worry, military vehicles are more than capable of carrying these arms. Rolls Royce see to that; through engine sales, of course.
What’s being done?
Not enough. In light of revelations that arms sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the mass slaughter of civilians in Yemen, there was a brief sense of outrage from political circles and media organisations. But nevertheless, the weapons are still being produced, deals being finalised and lives being lost. MPs have launched an investigation into whether British arms have been used by Saudi forces, but this overshadows the question: why they were being sold in the first place? The EU has proposed an embargo, although the process by definition will be long, arduous and inevitably fruitless in its outcome. A glance at resolutions previously set against the torture trade reveals many loopholes for companies to trade in tools designed specifically for the use of torturing.
Some prominent groups like the Campaign Against the Arms Trade have, for years, called tirelessly for further accountability of arms trade companies and the overall abolishment of the practice. However, regardless of how much these issues are being lobbied, they rarely enter the doors of parliament for serious consideration. In a recent visit to a BAE Systems factory in Preston, David Cameron’s comments suggest the obstacles that still remain at the highest levels. He stated; “ I’m going to be spending a lot of the next four months talking about this issue but I promise I will not be taking my eye off the ball, making sure the brilliant things you make here at BAE Systems are available and sold all over the world.” Reassuring stuff.
It seems irrational to think that a government would elicit the sale of arms to other countries with such appalling track records in human rights violations and oppressive governments, but sadly this is the case. What’s become clear is that in the pursuit of profit, human life does not hold any value.
A Humanitarian paradox?
Politics is riddled with hypocrisy. A prerequisite that we’ve no doubt become accustomed to. And sadly, conflict seems embedded within us as a race. Britain’s role is yet another example of this. On the one hand, rhetoric condemning the barbaric actions of regimes, and the resulting chaos wreaked upon lives of innocent civilians. The boats continue to arrive on European soil as desperate families seek refuge from the bloodshed and destruction. Governments then reluctantly offer an arm in the name of compassion and western democratic values. Juxtaposed with this is the continued backing of arms sales to the very same region where instability has become synonymous since the Arab Spring uprisings. By permitting the sales of arms to regimes like Saudi Arabia, the UK is fuelling the cycle of death and displacement that will undoubtedly lead to further humanitarian crises and the loss of human life. Within this quagmire exist companies profiting from the bloodshed. If the UK government ever had a moral compass, it sunk with the first boats that fell short of Greek shores.
The UN Arms Trade Treaty was ratified by around 50 countries and came into force in December 2014. It would appear that there are people in power who understand the grave consequences of allowing this dangerous practice to continue without being rigorously scrutinised and regulated. The sale of arms by definition, lacks any morality and concern for human welfare. As long as the pursuit of profit sees no boundaries, even death, then this reinforces the idea that we are the biggest threat to our own existence. So as the stalls are set and Cardiff welcomes this years annual DPTE fair on the 16th, remember that the celebration of suffering has now become a societal norm. It’s said that “A sword is never a killer, it is a tool in the killer’s hands”. Maybe so. But I can’t help thinking that the creators of these tools have hands just as red.