Just in case anyone needed a reminder as to the motivation for any of us involved in taking action against militarism and all its symptoms, the British government published its own report into arms exports from Britain during 2001.
At once the Peace News office started getting odd emails from around the world containing some of the details in the report. The contents are of great concern to activists in many parts of the world. And so they should be, because the report - the Strategic Exports Annual Report 2001, released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - reveals that British companies, with the blessing and financial support of the government, continue to sell about £5bn of unpleasant weapons of death and destruction to around 130 countries, including several currently at war - low-level and otherwise.
In fact British arms sales to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia increased last year and, incredibly, sales to Israel and Pakistan doubled. The “Britain fuelling conflict” tag seems more valid than ever, while the illusion of the once propounded “ethical” foreign policy has vanished once and for all.
An unhealthy relationship
However, the British are by no means alone in their enthusiasm for the arms trade. Other countries have followed a similar path of maintaining a domestic arms manufacturing industry at the expense of longer-term diversification.
And neither is the mutually supportive relationship between domestic militaries, private arms manufacturers and government treasuries - through the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) and the Export Credit Guarantee (ECG) scheme, and direct military aid and training - unique to Britain either. Several states seem more than happy to “rent out” their soldiers as models to help sell the latest hardware, and many have systems in place to make it easier for the arms traders to make their sales.
Getting “up close and personal”
At a recent military event in Britain, billed as an opportunity to “Get up close and personal to everything the Army has to offer” and which included two public days of military displays, simulations, information stalls and “kit” for children to play with, groups of activists from anti-militarist groups - there to disrupt the “fun” - noted the large number of arms companies exhibiting. And by no means just British companies: South African, German, French and US companies were also there.
In fact the public part of the event - called Army 2002 - was just part of “Five Days of Business Opportunities at the Training Home of the British Army”. Possibly worse still, those five days included a “recruitment” day, where busloads of schoolchildren were brought to the site to listen to the lies of the warmongers. No doubt “training”, “opportunities”, “travel”, “peacekeeping”, and so forth were the linguistic currency of the day - as opposed to “murder”, “misery”, “occupation”, “death”, or “torture”. At least the anti-militarists' slogans “the army kills, the arm lies” and “war is not a game” provided some balance!
A Turkish anti-militarist activist attending the event was particularly disturbed by the number of children present and the “family day out”-type atmosphere. Coming from one of the most militarised countries in the world, their revelation that it was the “same here!” could be seen as both depressing and a form of “solidarity in despair”.
A motivating factor
The international arms trade is valued at around US$830bn, with the US, Britain, Russia, France and Japan the five top spenders in 2001 (between them they account for more than 50% of global arms expenditure, though 37% is just the US, with the 13% between the other four). This figure, an increase of around 2% on the previous year does not include any post-11 September extra “security freakout / let's start a war in Afghanistan” spends. In the highest spending countries annual military expenditure exceeds US$1000 dollars per capita.
There are so many reasons why we are motivated to campaign, to educate, to protest and to take direct action against militarism and war. The way the international arms trade operates reflects several ways in which militarism works - tacit government support, “special relationships”, direct involvement of state militaries in sales and purchase, state subsidies for private companies, the erosion of other manufacturing industries in favour of weapons, and so on.
The death, misery and suffering caused by the profiteers (in partnership with governments, militaries and financiers) is immense and until the disgusting death trade is no more, it will always be a massive motivating factor for activists worldwide.