Peace Matters Index

conversion to peace

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- in memoriam
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- send in the blue shirts
- soldiers in the laboratory
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- monitoring toolkit
- descent intomadness
- history of movements and ideas
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- cold war modern
- history of movements and ideas
- 'New thinking' needs new direction

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UK dependence on the US for key military technologies is a powerful if rarely acknowledged factor in the UK’s role as a loyal, even supine, ally.

‘I don’t think we support our defence industry enough,’ Conservative spokesman Liam Fox says at a debate at the Conservative conference in September. ‘I was in Iraq last week where they are making big purchases. We made the sacrifices but we are not winning the reconstruction contracts. There is no one from the trade department selling weapons in Iraq.

A RECENT report by Steven Schofield published for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, with the somewhat unmemorable title: Making Arms, Wasting Skills, turns out to be more radical than anticipated. This report is a challenge to the peace movement. It goes beyond tinkering with the arms trade, trying to stop the sale of arms to countries with dodgy human rights records, or trying to abolish Trident nuclear weapons alone without tackling the underlying structural problems of the military-industrial complex. It makes clear that the whole UK military industry is skewed to serve the global power interests of the USA. By implication it is in effect a challenge to the Campaign against Arms Trade too, because the arms trade is a symptom of what is wrong with the UK defence and security strategy and cannot therefore be tackled in isolation. The sub-title ‘Alternatives to militarism and arms production’ makes this broad agenda clear.

The last CAAT report I reviewed called for the now defunct Defence Diversification Agency (which the Government never intended to be what the peace movement expected or wanted) to be restored to implement conversion of industry to socially useful purposes in conjunction with all interested parties such as the unions. This recent report calls instead for arms conversion to be seen as the economic dimension to a radical programme of disarmament and common security. It spells out what should be obvious – that if the UK government had the political will to convert the arms industry to more socially useful purposes such as renewable energy, it could do so.

Contrary to the discussions of conversion led by the Lucas Aerospace plans in the 1980s, the author believes detailed plans for each arms factory are not the answer - though there is a recognition that some parts of the country would be particularly hard hit if arms factories closed. It is argued here that for conversion to work, the old scenario of support for factory ‘site-based’ conversion ‘risks expensive failure’. This is particularly because of the increased specialisation of arms factories which would make transformation to civil production very difficult if not impossible. Conversion needs to be planned on a broader level by supporting new forms of economic activity at the subregional level. . Major savings on military expenditure by cancelling Trident and the new aircraft carriers for example, could free up money to help in conversion and support local regions where necessary.

The report outlines recent trends in the arms industry, with some useful statistics about expenditure and employment. It covers the growing internationalisation of the arms industry, the increase in outsourcing – like all industries, work is being sub-contracted to developing countries – and the resultant ‘hollowing out’ of the domestic arms industry. It shows the resultant insecurity in defence employment, It looks at the UK military expenditure - £30 billion per year now but in real terms fairly constant over the last 5 years. Out of this figure, military equipment costs £7-8 billion per year, plus £2.5 billion on Research and Development.

Of particular significance is the UK dependence on the US for key military technologies, which the author says is ‘a powerful if rarely acknowledged factor in the UK’s role as a loyal, even supine, ally.’ The UK’s military expenditure is totally out of proportion to its size as a medium-sized economy, and it is tied to major out-dated purchases such as enormous aircraft carriers which are designed to contribute to the US global military posture. (The dependence on the US for nuclear weapons is part of, if not the major element, in this unbalanced relationship.) ‘As long as the UK continues with the course pursued by successive governments of supporting the United States, there is no prospect other than continued real-term increases to arms expenditure.’

The author calls for a ‘radical rethink of both security and industrial policies based on broader concepts of sustainable security and disarmament that encompass environmental, social and economic dimensions such as global warming, where the UK could make a major contribution to a new political economy of common security.’ He recommends the reorientation of UK defence and foreign policy away from the United States to support for UN and European peacekeeping, and a focus on territorial defence only rather than continuing to act as a world power globally. Pacifists would wish to go further than this but it is a direction that could lead to a much lower level of military expenditure and therefore be a positive step forwards. The report concludes that ‘The UK is entering a critical period where it can continue to feed the arms machine…or take a leading role in forging a new era of international disarmament and a political economy of common security. Rather than an economic threat, disarmament represents a real economic opportunity. All that is required is the political will to achieve it.’

Perhaps I should have stopped here, but near the end of this report is a mention of the so-called Plowshare Fund. At first sight something the peace movement might like? (though some would quibble about the American spelling). Actually this is a project of the UK Government – the remnants of the Defence Diversification Agency set up by New Labour and now set for closure. This money will apparently be used to licence agreements that can generate money to fund further arms research. Nothing is quite what is seems in the ‘defence’ world. Trying, unsuccessfully, to google for more information on this fund, I came across the new version of the government’s arms trade organisation. The Defence Export Services Organisation, which we were glad was closing, has now become the UK Trade and Industry Defence and Security Organisation. They proudly announce that the UK recently achieved a 33% share of the arms trade market…The new head of UKTIDSO (as we must learn to call it) previously worked for BP. The peace movement has a long way to go to implement the vision contained in this CAAT report.

Lucy Beck

Making arms, wasting skills: Alternatives to militarism and arms production. Steven Schofield.

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