|ISSUE 55 SUMMER 2007
|problems with the hydra
- conscience in cold storage
It is important to see such moves – welcome and encouraging – but essentially peripheral to the trade in life destroying machinery to say nothing of their actual use.
Some more ‘good news’ is that a number of leading UK institutions are planning to withdraw hundreds of millions of pounds from firms linked to the manufacture of cluster bombs.
Earlier this year 46 countries, including the UK, committed to banning cluster bombs by next year, which together with the various anti cluster bomb campaigns may have provided some impetus to this move. Needless to say the United States is not one of the 46. Some of the major arms producers can expect to face a battery of questions from fund managers but strangely most deny having anything to do with cluster bombs.
In July French insurer Axa announced it was pulling its investments from companies that manufacture cluster bombs and the pension fund Hermes has recently written to the board of BAE to establish whether it plays a part in the industry. A number of Dutch institutions have also pulled out of investing in cluster bomb manufacturers after criticism in a television documentary. And Norway's Oil Fund has also left this market.
Enter the Hydra CRV-7 which according to the armed forces minister is equipped with ‘multi-purpose submunitions’ fired from Apache helicopters but does not fall within the government’s ‘understanding of cluster bombs’. The government admits that in tests it has a 6% failure rate, which campaigners against cluster bombs point out, is the very reason they object to it. The arguments between the MoD and campaigners on this issue get more complicated and akin to the number of angels which can dance on the head of a pin. The ‘long term’ danger posed by landmines and to a lesser extent by unexploded bomblets to people and economic regeneration is of course serious but more serious are the ‘acceptable’ weapons which of course cause far more harm.
In the last ten years the UK government has been the third biggest user of cluster bombs in the world but has shown little concern about their impact on civilians which given its enthusiasm for war is perhaps not surprising.
It would be good to get rid of Hydra CRV-7 but the real hydra is war itself and we should not wait for Hercules to rid us of it.
And there is some more good news. The government has announced the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation after 41 years of helping put weapons into the hands of tyrants and megalomaniacs around the world at taxpayer’s expense. Set up by Labour’s Denis Healey then Secretary of State for Defence it became the heart of an intimate relationship between the government and arms manufacturer. The military, MPs, prime ministers and royalty all pimped for the arms manufacturers.
The ending of this cosy relationship must be a good thing but what effect this will have on Britain’s arms exports will not be clear for some time
As Al yamamah (the dove in Arabic) Britain’s biggest arms deal turns to Salam (peace in Arabic) you have to admire the cheek of the merchants of death and their publicists. Al yamamah earned BAE systems and its predecessor some £43 billion from the deal with Saudi Arabia. Now that the bribery investigation by the Serious Fraud Office was stopped comes Salam a £20 billion arms deal for 72 Eurofighters originally designed for Cold War battles with the Soviet Union. The repressive nature of the Saudi regime and suspected of connections with al Queda are clearly no obstacle to the rise and rise of Britain’s weapon makers.