Politics has its cycles, not just elections, but events that recur over and over again. But that doesn’t make it repetitive.
No event happens twice in the same political environment, and this is evidenced by the circumstances in which I join again this year the protests against the arms fairs, in Liverpool (today-Saturday) and London (tomorrow -Sunday).
This year’s fairs begin against the backdrop of the collapse of the West-backed regime in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have taken control not only of the government and the plight of 38 million people, but also of huge masses of people. weapons manufactured and supplied by the West.
Over £ 150bn of UK-made weapons have been cleared for export to Afghanistan as of 2008, of which the vast majority, we can assume, have been delivered. This is in addition to the 2,000 U.S.-made armored vehicles, 40 military aircraft, including Black Hawk helicopters, and the uncertain number of high-tech military drones now believed to be in the hands of the Taliban, as well as ‘to huge quantities of more “mundane” weapons, from night vision goggles to 600,000 infantry weapons, including M16 assault rifles, for a total of $ 28 billion.
There is no doubt that some of them at the cutting edge of technology will be little more than trophies without tech support, but most of them will be usable and used in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
The argument that shipping masses of weapons into a world awash with weapons can be brought home with new power. That our security is threatened by these weapons is now blindingly horrific evidence.
It’s a reminder that while governments like to make it seem like the only problem with arms sales is a small number of shady and clandestine deals. In fact, the vast majority of arms sales to regimes that violate human rights are not only legal, but actively promoted by the government, especially our own.
Between 2011-2020, the UK authorized £ 16.8 billion in arms sales to countries classified as “non-free” because of their human rights record.
At the top of the table of dishonor are arms sales to Saudi Arabia, one of the worst regimes in the world flouting human rights, and a supporter of a brutal bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed more of 8,000 civilians and is one of the main drivers of a humanitarian crisis. crisis of heartbreaking proportions.
Since the bombing began, the published value of UK arms export licenses has been £ 6.8 billion. Sales through the opaque open license system undoubtedly increase that figure tremendously – the Campaign Against the Arms Trade estimates at least £ 18 billion.
The Saudi regime will fall. Such regimes always fall – like the Shah of Iran, Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein in Iraq – all figures that we have sometimes armed, and in the majority of cases then overthrown, with very unstable results.
The other major change in the international climate around these fairs is the climate – the now terribly and tragically evident state of emergency of our natural systems, an action against which the UK has a unique responsibility as chairman of the COP26 talks.
This is something that is recognized in the Integrated Security, Defense, Development and Policy Review released earlier this year. Much of that is now obsolete, in a world in which it’s blindingly clear that President Biden’s foreign policy is less different from President Trump’s than many thought, at least in his “America First” leanings. But what remains painfully, obviously relevant, is the urgency of the declaration that “Her Majesty’s government will make the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss its number one international priority”.
This is totally incompatible with continuing to be one of the world leaders in arms sales. As the Early Day Motion put forward by Green MP Caroline Lucas puts it, there is an “inherent conflict between the government’s promotion of military exports and both its stated desire to help protect human rights at the same time. foreign and climate emergency demanding unprecedented international cooperation as a priority. ”It is a shame that only 10 MPs have now signed – please ask your MP to sign.
The two issues are linked not only because endangering security by shipping new weapons to a world teeming with them prevents states from taking climate action. Or because government money meant to support the arms trade could be spent on essential climate action – especially in the Global South, programs hit hard by the government’s failure to keep its election promise to international development aid.
But also because of the human resources used in the production of weapons – including the hideous and unusable weapons of mass destruction that are nuclear weapons – which could and should be devoted to the development and production of the technologies and tools that we use. need to face the climate emergency. and the crisis of nature.
Traditionally, many – including the Labor Party – have defended the arms industry on the basis of job creation. It never added – but now looks even more indefensible and obsolete.
We are seeing labor shortages and skills shortages across the UK economy, particularly in engineering. We cannot afford to employ skilled and capable people, from engineers and machinists to truck drivers, in industries we don’t need – which actively undermine our safety, our future. They must be redeployed towards the pressing problems of today.
It’s swords updated in plowshares: from torpedoes to tidal turbines, rifles to renewable energies, submarines to solar.
Image credit: Alisdaire Hickson – Creative Commons