In two weeks the arms fair Farnborough is coming to the UK with its official welcome reception to be held in the Natural History Museum. Masquerading as an airshow, the fair will bring together 37 buyer countries including Algeria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Libya.
The arms companies (whoops, I suppose we're supposed to call them "security technologies salesmen") present will be:
- Lockheed Martin
- BAE Systems
- General Dynamics
- L-3 Communications
- United Technologies
Now, that's a dodgy bunch of guys for anyone who knows anything about what arms traders get up to, but for now let's turn our attention to Rosoboronexport. They are a "federal state unitary enterprise acting as the sole Russian state intermediary agency for export and import of military and dual-purpose products" according to their website.
They also happen to be the main supplier of weapons to the Assad regime in Syria.
According to an interview with spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko in February in the New York Times:
"We understand the situation has become aggravated in Syria. But since there are no international decisions, and there are no sanctions from the UN Security Council, and there are no other decisions, our cooperation with Syria - the military-technical cooperation - remains quite active and dynamic."
Some might find it rather strange that the UK would be hosting this company when William Hague, our foreign secretary has called for tougher sanctions on Syria and condemned their actions as "outrageous" and whatever. Actually, to be honest, if you know anything about the arms trade, you'd hardly be surprised. 74% of the world's weapons flow from China, France, UK, USA and Russia. The UK is the world's fifth largest arms exporter - now, considering the number of perfectly sensible, internationally lauded and UN-approved wars and conflicts that happen in the world, it'd hardly be surprising that the UK ends up selling to rather fairly shady characters. To quote Salil Shetty, the General Secretary of Amnesty International:
"Powerful states have shown that they cannot be trusted to put human life and dignity before profit."
Last year I spoke to journalist and former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, a campaigner who has uncovered the reckless corruption and exploitation that this business entails:
"The grey and black markets in weapons, which are effectively quasi and fully illegal markets, are an extremely important part of the formal government to government weapons trade because when those weapons are first manufactured, their value is increased by the knowledge that they are going to have myriad life cycles through the grey and then the black markets. So they are inevitably because of a lack of controls and regulation, going to be sold to people who probably shouldn't have them. So you have these constant moments of conflict irony, I suppose we could call them."
'Conflict irony' would perfectly sum up our government's attitude towards Rosoboronexport - willingly allowing this company to set up shop and make sales in the UK with the full knowledge that they are also the foremost suppliers of a regime which they continue to publicly condemn. It's a bit like setting up a drug lab right next to a rehab clinic and just shrugging your shoulders and going "I don't see the problem here!"
What can be done?
On the 2 July, negotiations will begin at the UN for an Arms Trade Treaty. According to the UN:
The Arms Trade Treaty Conference will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 2 - 27 July 2012. Negotiations will be carried out by the 193 Member States of the UN. In addition, hundreds of representatives from non-governmental organizations, public interest groups, the arms industry, media and inter-governmental organisations will attend.
This offers a unique opportunity in history for the world's power to finally agree to regulate this most lucrative of industries and bring a modicum of control to the state of violent bedlam which the world currently seems to reside in. Naturally, it doesn't sound too promising. Feinstein was pessimistic:
"I fear what it might be is simply an endorsement of the status quo as it currently exists whereas if it was a very, very strong treaty with serious anti-corruption measures to ensure that the trade in weapons didn't intensify existing conflicts, didn't exacerbate human rights situations in certain parts of the world. If it was that strong a treaty I think too many members of the UN wouldn't support it."
People need to take greater awareness of the dark nature of the international arms trade. Nonsense about how it's our only manufacturing base left need to be dismissed (only around 55,000 people work in arms exports today) and we need to realise the incredible harm that is caused around the world by an unregulated arms trade.
On the 9 July, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) will begin their protests against the Farnborough "air show" at the Natural History Museum. I suggest we all join them
If our governments aren't willing to take control of this issue, which causes misery for millions the world over, it's up to us to do it instead. Tell them that we are NOT happy with this.