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Peace News reader Stuart McCabe puts forward a proposal for common days of action for arms trade activists to organise around.

New days of action

On 5 June 2003 a small group ofactivists managed to successfully blockade BAe Systems(BAeS) offices in North Edinburgh for three hours. The company refused to press charges and the police were extremely pleasant, although they stopped short of passing out tea and biscuits. A local news reporter showed up and stated that his editor would only run the story if there were arrests. There emerged an ironic situation where a peaceful protest against a developer and promoter of violent products can only get publicity if there is civil disorder.

One student asked me about BAeS. He passed the offices every day on the way to college and knew nothing about the place. When I told him that it was one of the most powerful arms exporters in the world, and had sold to oppressive regimes such as Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Turkey and Saudi Arabia he was quite surprised. I also mentioned that as BAe Systems sells more to the US Pentagon than it does to the Ministry of Defence, then the recent war in Iraq could be seen from their perspective as a good business investment.

New days of action

Assisted by the apathy of the media the arms dealers are now developing tactics,which are designed to keep the details of their dirty business as far away as possible from the public eye. There are exceptions such at Rolls Royce in Derby, where the police have been heavy-handed and made arrests during protests at the site; but Rolls Royce will learn that if they want to avoid controversy in respect of arms exports then they will need to employ a softer approach.

Activists will also have to adapt and evolve their methods. All across Britain--and indeed the world--there are groups and individuals trying valiantly to get the message through. Unfortunately the multinationals and the state can afford to ignore or sit out these, often isolated, demonstrations. However, how would they react if ten depots or factories in a country were blockaded in one day?Could the media ignore this type of mass action?

How could you co-ordinate such actions without the flow of information alerting the authorities? There would be no need for setting up a national or inter-national network of different groups. Activists would only need to insert in their diaries a set of dates associated with “new days of action”.

Indonesia, Israel, Zimbabwe...

The “new days of action” I speak of-- writing from Britain--would serve as links between the British arms industry, British politics, and foreign wars and civil oppression. For example the date 20 May 2003 is now infamous for the date that the Indonesian military, backed by Alvis's Scorpion tanks and BAeS's Hawk jets,invaded the province of Aceh. 20 May could become a day for solidarity with the people of Aceh, commemorated by demonstrations and blockades of all British companies profiting from the invasion

Then 29 March 2002 is the date when Israeli forces invaded Palestine in a campaign called “Operation Defensive Shield”. The Israelis used British made centurion tanks to transport troops, and the Merkava and IMI tanks were supplied with components and parts from the Air Technology group. BAe Systems provided heads-up displays to help make the US-built F-16s more accurate: whilst the Smiths group supplied missile triggering systems for Apache helicopters. The British arms industry turned a healthy profit whilst the al-Aqsa intifada raged on.

August 1998 is another shameful date,when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),and started a war that dragged in other African nations leading to the estimated deaths through warfare, famine and disease of three million people. This is a war that was ignored by the mainstream media, yet British arms companies withg overnment assistance managed to sell to both sides in the conflict; Uganda and Rwanda on one side, and Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe on the other. Zimbabwe deployed British-made Hawk jets, and there is strong circumstantial evidence that they were used in indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the north-west of the DRC. Perhaps other countries who export to Indonesia, Israel, Zimbabwe, et al, could organise similar days of action?

Remembering the past

It does not have to be recent dates that are adopted as “days of action”. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor on 7 December 1975 resulted in one of the greatest acts of genocide to occur in the twentieth century. It is estimated that 200,000 East Timorese were slaughtered by the Indonesian military. The media as usual ignored the mass murders and massacres, allowing the British government in 1978to approve the sale of Hawk jets, Rolls Royce engines and various equipment and components. Training of pilots and engineers was also provided, and Konis San-tana, the leader of the East Timorese resistance was witness to the fact that British jets raided villages during the late ,70s and early ,80s, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

The Hawk jet became to the ordinary East Timorese a symbol of oppression,right up to 30 August 1999 when 78% voted in the referendum for independence--and this act of defiance led to Indonesian-backed militias murdering between 3000 to 5000 people.

Establishing certain dates, as “days of action” would help instigate mass actions and also inform the public about the darker side of politics and business. Considering that Britain is the second biggest arms exporter in the world, and has, since 1997, sold arms to at least ten countries involved in armed invasions or civil repression, it would not be difficult to enter into the diary a “day of action” for every month in the year for Britain alone.

Stuar McCabe is an arms trade activist and Peace News reader.

Topics: Arms trade | Activism