Monday, September 25, 2006

New Labour and the merchants of death

Whoever becomes next New Labour leader, or that matter whatever party wins the next election, one thing is certain: they will ensure that Britain remains the world’s second biggest arms trader after the United States. As delegates gathered in Manchester for the party’s conference, they would have read that Iraq, Colombia and Kazakhstan are now "priority" markets for the government agency, the Defence Export Services Organisation (Deso).

Arms sales have boomed under the Blair regime. Last year, the government authorised the sale of arms to 100 countries, including both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria are among other repressive regimes who regularly receive British-made arms. In 2005, various departments issued almost 7,000 export licences and refused just 127.

As the Campaign Against the Arms Trade puts it in a recent briefing: "This is hardly surprising given that it is government policy to vigorously support arms exports and that the government allows arms companies unrivalled influence in its policy-making. In fact, arms companies and the government have a unique relationship and are inseparable when it comes to selling arms abroad."

Unique is the word. The arms companies certainly have friends in Whitehall. Not for them the hard-sell business. Deso employs 500 civil servants at Deso whose job it is to sell weapons on behalf of arms companies and to co-ordinate government support for arms exports. Deso is run by a seconded arms industry executive with access to ministers and Downing Street itself.

Identifying Iraq as a new "marketing opportunity" is the height of cynicism. Together with the US, British forces have turned Iraq into a nightmare state verging on civil war. Sending more arms can only make matters worse. Deso also claims that "in Colombia, the human rights and security situation has improved" to justify arms exports. That’s news to many Colombians, who live in fear of state, extra-judicial executions and disappearances. There is always the "war on terror" if markets get tough, with Deso insisting that "countering it [terrorism] with new equipment, systems and processes is now a major driver in spending and planning".

What a sordid and corrupt business this is. The export of weapons designed to fuel military conflicts and keep dictatorial regimes in place – with sales promoted by civil servants funded by taxpayers – sums up New Labour. Here is the state, the government and corporations all in bed together selling commodities that have one purpose – to kill. Once again, we have to ask – what is the point of New Labour, whoever’s prime minister?

Paul Feldman, communications editor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Didn't know any of that, thanks,