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conversion - a faded ideal


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- smart procurement
- working together
- preservation order
- arabian connection
- conversion a faded ideal
- breaking the silence


IN THE HEADY days of the 70s conversion (of military technology) was all the rage. The trade unions supported it, the Labour party supported it and Shop Stewards groups produced vast, comprehensive and imaginative plans of how the human and economic resources that go into the production of even more fanciful weapons could be turned to producing socially useful goods. Even the GLC got in on the act. Alas - today even the peace movement’s enthusiasm has waned.

The values that animated the movement for conversion were various but central was the wish for the elimination or at least a severe reduction of the state’s military might and Britain’s reliance on arms sales. International relations should be and could be handled differently.

The Thatcher years eventually put paid to those ideals and the collapse of the Soviet Union instead of delivering a ‘peace dividend’, brought unemployment to arms makers as the ‘defence’ budget was scaled down. Today trade unions and local authorities fight with each other over who’s constituency is to get the latest juicy military contract.
‘Conversion’ transmuted into ‘diversification’ (of military technology); the inspiration behind this of an entirely different kind. Successive governments have been urged to set up an agency to assist companies producing military goods to ‘diversify’ into civilian production. The innocent joy when the 1997 Labour Manifesto promised to set up a Defence Diversification Agency (DDA) was dashed by late 1998 when the new government published the Defence Diversification White Paper . This made it clear that it was not going to have much to do with ‘conversion’. Located within the Ministry of Defence’s Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) the DDA’s function will be ‘to encourage greater two-way technology transfer between the military and civil sectors.’

The aim for DERA, part of which is up for sale, appears to be cash in on military technology rather than refocus research. As its web site makes clear ‘the role of DERA has been expanded to encourage the exploitation of defence technology for the purpose of wealth creation’. The proposed sell-off of parts of DERA some people feel provides an opportunity to press for restructuring the DDA and relocating it within the DTI.

66 MPs have signed the following Early Day Motion 181: Defence Diversification Agency
‘That this House welcomes the Government’s support for defence diversification; notes the Government’s plan to set up a defence diversification agency which would facilitate the conversion of defence technology to civilian purposes; and urges the Government to consider locating this agency within the Department of Trade and Industry where the agency could best work co-operatively with the regional development agencies to promote defence conversion and technology transfer from laboratory to civil industry.’
You could help breath some life into this issue by writing to your MP asking him or her to press the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to take the DDA into his Department, to give a clear mandate to assist the reorientation of the economy from military to civil production, and to substantially increase its budget. You can also ask your MP to sign the Early Day Motion on Diversification.

Background to the conversion/diversification issue:
PPU Information
Defence Diversification: getting the most out of defence technology - proposal for a Defence Diversification Agency (Cm4008)
Response to the Green Paper on the establishment of a Defence Diversification Agency. CAAT. £1,00.
Defence Evaluation and Research Agency
Defence Diversification Agency


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