Apr 062012
 

At the next meeting of Aberdeen CND on Monday 10th April, Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen CND and also a member of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, will be leading a discussion on the Arms Trade. The meeting will take place at 7.30pm on the Top Floor of the Belmont Cinema, Belmont Street, Aberdeen.

The arms trade is a deadly, corrupt business. It supports conflicts and human rights abusing regimes while squandering valuable resources which could be used to deal with the many social and environmental challenges we face here on Planet Earth. It does this with the full support of governments around the world, in particular the five permanent members of the United Nations  Security Council: the United States, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom.

These are the very countries which are meant to be our global custodians, but are in fact the very countries which are feeding global insecurity and conflict.

While very few countries sell large volumes of weaponry, the buyers are spread across the world. Other than to the five permanent UN Security Council members, the largest buyers are in the Middle East and South East Asia. The arms themselves range from fighter aircraft, helicopters and warships with guided missiles, radar and electronic warfare systems, tanks, armoured vehicles, machine guns and rifles.

The common misconception is that it is the illegal trade that is damaging, while the legal trade is tightly controlled and acceptable. However, the vast majority of arms sold around the world including those to human rights abusing governments or into areas of conflict are legal and are supported by governments. In 2007 the value of legal arms around the world amounted to 60 billion dollars. The illegal market is estimated at 5 billion dollars:  many illegal weapons end up as legal weapons.

The arms trade exists to provide weapons to those who can pay for them. What the buyers do with the arms, what political approval the sales signify, and how money could be better spent appears irrelevant to the arms companies and our governments. The UK Government’s 2010 Human Rights Annual Report identified 26 countries of concern. In that year the UK approved arms licences to 16 of these.

There’s a sense that in the past we were embarrassed about supporting defence exports. There’s no such embarrassment in this Government.

David Cameron was in the Middle East on a high-profile mission to sell arms when the democracy movement started in the Middle East. Selling arms to a country in conflict whether internal or external makes the conflict more deadly and longer lasting.
If there is tension between countries or within a country, then arms purchases are likely to increase this tension and make actual conflict more likely.

Even when conflict has ended, arms, particularly small arms, may remain in large numbers (as in Libya at present), fuelling further conflicts and/or criminal activity.

Every year the UK Government authorises the sale of arms to well over 100 countries. This is hardly surprising given that it is Government policy to vigorously support arms exports. Peter Luff, Minister of Defence Exports in the present UK Government, has stated that:

“There’s a sense that in the past we were embarrassed about supporting defence exports. There’s no such embarrassment in this Government.”

Arms companies and Government are inseparable when it comes to selling arms. The Government’s UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) department is a vital element of UK’s arms dealing. In 2008 the Government opened the Defence and Security Organisation which promotes weaponry on behalf of arms companies. There are 158 civil servants in the Defence and Security Organisation while other non-arms sectors have137 staff. This is despite arms accounting for less than 1.5 Percent of UK exports.

• Arms export jobs as a percentage of total employment:  0.2%
• Arms as a percentage of exports:  1.5 %
• UK Government Research Expenditure Spent on Arms:  27%
• UK trade and investment staff committed to selling arms:  54%

Research carried out for Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) by the Stockholm International Peace Institute assesses the level of subsidy by Government to the arms trade in the UK to be around £700 million a year.  In 2010 the UK Government issued 10,850 arms export licences, refused 230, and revoked 14.

Half of the refusals related to proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, with a maximum of 76 being revoked on the grounds that they contributed to internal repression, internal conflict or regional instability. Foreign office embassies also promote the arms sales, as do the Ministry of Defence armed services. Arms fairs are common in the UK and around the world.  The governments of host countries provides support for their arms firms.

Arms sales from the UK seem to vary from year to year:

• 2007    9651 million   (particularly high because of sales of Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia)
• 2008    4367 million
• 2009    7261 million also high as included Typhoon support services to Saudi Arabia)
• 2010    5819 million

Of the 16 countries identified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as locations of major conflict in 2009, the UK sold arms to 12.

Columnist Will Self –  “War, the arms trade and the abuse of language”

BAE arms are the UK’s main arms company and has military customers in over 100 countries. BAE’s focus over the past few years has been on increasing sales to the US, specifically targeting equipment for conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and supplying Euro fighters and other arms to Saudi Arabia. BAE routinely supplies countries which the UK Foreign Office considers as having ‘the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns’.

The casualties of conflict are now overwhelmingly civilian, increasing from 50% of war related deaths in the first half of the twentieth century to 90% near the end of the century.

The arms trade affects development both through the money wasted on arms purchased and through the conflicts fuelled by arms.

A study in 2007 by Oxfam of the economic cost of armed conflict to Africa estimated that Africa  loses around 18 billion dollars a year due to wars and that armed conflict shrinks an African nations economy by 15%.

As well as the direct effects of military spending, medical costs and the destruction of infrastructure, there are indirect costs on the  economy and employment suffers ( this does not take into account the countless human misery caused by loss of life and sustained injuries effecting families and friends as well as the individuals concerned).

The study estimated that the cost  of conflicts in Africa since 1990 was equivalent to the aid provided to them by major donors.

Even when conflict is not taking place money diverted to arms is a drain on government resources and takes away from vital spending on health education and infrastructure. The massive 1998 South African arms deals for aircraft, helicopters, warships and submarines cost the country over £8billion. Yet most of the population live in shanty towns and other poor housing and South Africans with HIV/AIDS were told that the country could not afford ant-retroviral medication.

Despite desperate poverty and its recent appalling history of armed struggle, the UK government is actively promoting arms struggle to Angola. The UK government not only approved arms exports to Angola it actively organised an “industry day’’ when HMS Liverpool docked in Angola waters and hosted Angolan political and military officials.

The arms trade causes countless misery in our world; it is a poor use of limited resources which should be used to make this world a better place. We need to question the thinking in the world that believes you only get what you want by force. The five members of the Security Council should start taking on their responsibilities and use conflict resolution rather than warfare to sort the many conflicts that take place both between and within countries.

Feb 192012
 

On March 1st the Aberdeen branch of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be hosting three exciting speakers at Aberdeen University: Fathe Kdirat and Itaf Njoum Karma from Jordan Valley Solidarity, and Leehee Rothschild from Boycott from Within (Israel).

Fathe and Itaf, both Palestinians, will be discussing Israel’s destruction of communities and the environment in the Jordan Valley, and the on-going illegal Israeli settlement construction that continues to drive Palestinians from their land.

The Jordan Valley makes up a large section of the West Bank, around 28% in total.  It has been one of the worst affected areas of the West Bank during the Israeli occupation, which began in 1967.

The occupation saw the Jordan Valley’s population drop by 88% and was thereafter the site of Israel’s first settlements.

Since the occupation Israel has gone about taking almost complete control of the area.  This map (click to follow link) published in December 2011 by the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) shows that 15% of the Jordan Valley comprises  settlements (blatantly illegal under international law[i]), 27% comprises nature reserves, often used to control natural resources such as water supply (to the detriment of Palestinians) and 56%  comprises  closed military areas.

In addition, 87% of the Jordan Valley is designated Area C, i.e. under Israeli control. The 1993 Oslo Accords divided the occupied West Bank into 3 sections: Area A, under the full control of the Palestinian Authority (3% of the West Bank); Area B, under Palestinian civilian control and Israeli military control (25%); and Area C, under the full control of Israel (72%).  Designating land as Area C gives Israel unlimited autonomy to do as it pleases and to ignore the rights of Palestinians.  For example, according to UN OCHA 94% of Area C planning applications submitted by Palestinians were denied between 2001 and 2007.

One of the main focuses of Israel policy in the area is to clear the Jordan Valley of its Bedouin population.  In September 2011 the Israeli government announced its plans to expel 27,000 Bedouin from their homes and lands in the Jordan Valley.  This process is due to be completed in the next 3-6 years; the initial stages have already begun.

The role of activism, resistance and international solidarity is crucial in the fight to prevent this attempted ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley.  Fathe and Itaf will talk on how Palestinian communities and internationals are working together to witness, catalogue and resist Israel’s actions, and the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against apartheid Israel.

One crucial component of the BDS campaign is the small but important resistance movement within Israel itself.  This includes the campaign group Boycott from Within.

“We, Palestinians, Jews, citizens of Israel, join the Palestinian call for a BDS campaign against Israel, inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid. We also call on others to do the same.” Boycott from Within Website

Organisations like Boycott from Within are operating within a state becoming increasingly reactionary to the growing success of the calls for the end of the occupation, equal rights for Palestinians within Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian (the three main tenets of the BDS campaign).  In July 2011 the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed an anti-boycott bill, criminalising those who support boycotts of Israel or its illegal occupation and settlements.

The bill has implications for individuals and organisations alike; for example companies deciding not to source products from illegal settlements in the West Bank may be barred from government contracts.  More recent Knesset bills have turned their attention to NGOs working in Israel, such as groups aiming to promote human rights.

One such law proposes to place a limit on the funding NGOs can receive from foreign governments and institutions, meaning many will be unable to function.

Leehee Rothschild will be speaking about her involvement in internal resistance movements such as Boycott from Within and Anarchists Against the Wall, as well as exploring issues of propaganda within the Israeli education system.

The talk starts at 7pm on March 1st in room 268 in the MacRobert Building at Aberdeen University.  For more information contact: Aberdeen@scottishpsc.org.uk


[i] for example see the International Court of Justice ruling 2004, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and UN Security Council Resolution 446

Sep 012011
 

By Jonathan Hamilton Russell.

In June of this year I  wrote an article on the situation in Libya called ‘Libya another Brutal Conflict’.
In it I suggested a way forward would have been via negotiations, which would include the expectation for fair elections run by the United Nations, the withdrawal of NATO and the use of UN peacekeepers.

Qaddafi would have been forced to face his opposition but in a non-bloody way. Only if such negotiations failed would military action be considered.

The mantra regarding the war on Iraq was ‘weapons of mass destruction'; this proved to be a lie. The mantra in relation t oLibya has been ‘the defence of innocent civilians’. This, as the conflict has escalated, has proved clearly not to be the real objective. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a UN commission headed by the legal scholar Cheri Bassioni found there was no evidence of the atrocity stories which were given as the reasons for NATO action.

Yet this was not listened to by our politicians and was not widely reported by the media. What has clearly happened is a mission of regime change which went far beyond the UN mandate. Such developments were opposed by the US Congress and never properly debated in our own Parliament.

Rather than protecting civilians, NATO weapons have inevitably killed them.

Their targets increasingly widened from attacking tanks that were moving towards Benghazi, to attacking all Libyan Military installations, to attacking any building that was seen as supporting the Gaddafi administration.

Inevitably there were civilian casualties. On the day of the rebel attack on Tripoli, more bombs were dropped than on any other day in NATO’s history. The rebels were also being supported and trained by troops from NATO countries, and as evidenced by the Sunday Times, some were Libyan exiles living in the UK. This has led to an even more bitter war between the ‘rebels and Kaddafi loyalists with disastrous human consequences.

The hospitals are not coping and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are reporting human rights violations on all sides. Human Rights Watch consider that the evidence suggests that the old governments Khamis Brigade killed 45 detainees. The horrors of what happened to Kaddafi troops and the disappearance of all the medical staff at Abu- Salim hospital is just unfolding as are other atrocities, but these are only the most heavily reported incidents.

We never seem to learn the lesson of the horrors that war can bring.

Richard Seymour in the Guardian reported on Peter Bouckaert from Human Rights Watch findings that he had not identified one mercenary among scores of men being arrested and falsely labelled as such by journalists. Many Libyans are black but have been labelled as black mercenaries from Africa and led to racist incidents.

Qaddafi’s regime became increasingly oppressive over time

On top of this, much of the country’s infra-structure has been destroyed. The Libyan Transitional Council estimate it will take ten years to repair the damage done to the country’s infrastructure.

So what is the future for Libya? It is almost certain that Qaddafi will be eventually defeated, but how long that takes and at what continuing human cost is still to be seen. Worryingly, anyone supporting Qaddafi will not be seen as a civilian but as a supporter of a mad and dangerous dictator. The rebels are not a united force. The National Transitional Council has been recognised by over 40 foreign states; however, has it been recognised by the militias on the ground?

Abul Fatah Younes, the leader of the  Rebel army, was murdered by one of the Islamic militias and this in turn led to the sacking of the whole cabinet by Musta Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Government.

Will this Government be able to rule or will fighting continue between the various factions, in particular those aligned to a more Islamic agenda and those not? These groupings are now highly armed and as our policies did in Afghanistan, they could easily come back to bite western interests. Atiyha Abdl al Rahman, the deputy leader of Al-Qaida who was killed by US drones in Pakistan, was Libyan.

Qaddafi’s regime became increasingly oppressive over time. In his early years as a revolutionary leader, he was involved in pulling down prisons.  Being active himself over the years led to the atrocities that more recently took place of Islamists in Libyan prisons. Hopefully human rights will improve, but that has yet to be seen, and Libya was far from being the only country which has tortured and killed the more extreme Islamists.

Any new government will still have to find ways of dealing with Islamic groups and could end up being equally oppressive.

The Qaddafi regime was oppressive to its enemies, they did however have the highest social indicators in the Third World with better housing, health care and standards of living than in other Middle East and third world countries. As with Iraq these social strengths and the resulting effects on the countries well-being are sure to decline particularly if conflict continues.

Libya was not a country in debt, but it is now, and like us it will have to become beholden to the banks for money borrowed to rebuild the country. Who will own the huge reserves held in foreign banks which were there in part to deal with Libya’s future when the oil stocks have gone?

This has caused considerable indignation on the African continent.

Libya has historically produced 1.5 to 2 million barrels of oil a day. Qaddafi was hated by the west for nationalising Libyan oil and though he has more recently been co-operating with Western firms he has still been directing considerable investment into the economy and saving for its future.

Any new government will, unless clearly Islamic, be beholden to the West, and as such oil is almost certain to be obtained by the West more cheaply; the cost of oil on the markets has already gone down. Libya will also likely have military NATO bases for any future developments in the Middle East.

The poorer Libyans will, I suspect, be those who will be the most badly affected but others will gain and disparities in wealth will increase to the overall detriment of the country. Hopefully human rights will improve, but that has yet to be seen. Qaddafi was supportive of women’s involvement in society and was one of the reasons that he opposed so strongly the more extreme tenants of Islam and its supporters in Libya.

The future for women could go either way, but is certain to cause tension in the new Libya.

Qaddafi was instrumental in setting up the African Union and financially supported African infrastructure projects. The West, unless replaced by Chinese interests, will now have greater control over the African continent. However despite for instance South Africa supporting Resolution 1973 which led to intervention in Libya, their and other African countries attempts through the African Union to set up peace talks were knocked back. This has caused considerable indignation on the African continent.

overall spending on wars leads to fewer resources to be spent on other areas

Due to the way that NATO overstepped the UN resolution, there is now reluctance by many countries to do anything in Syria or the other Middle East countries. Damage has been done to International relations and the workings of the United Nations due to NATO’s actions.

Why have we, and why are we continuing to arm dictatorships in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, etc.  which are oppressive to their people? In fact, why are we arming any country? All armaments have the potential for use both between warring countries and on countries own citizens. Yet selling more arms is a key target of the present UK Government.

The selling of arms does lead to profit and work for those involved and money for Government. However overall spending on wars leads to fewer resources to be spent on other areas and in the United Kingdom, France and the United States it will lead to increased cuts in public services which will affect us all, but in particular the more vulnerable people in our society.

The United Nations was set up to try and stop wars between countries. Libya had not invaded another country.

The intervention was, however, based around the doctrine of  ‘the responsibility to protect’ following The Rwandan genocide. The way NATO has acted by clearly taking sides in Libya has brought this doctrine into disrespect. The press in the UK have in the main been heralding the success of the Libyan intervention, but if you dig deeper this can only be questioned.

The United Nations needs itself to have increased power to stop the manipulation that has clearly taken place around the Libyan conflict.

So what can we do?

  • We can protest. Stop the War and CND are holding an anti-war rally on October 8th to mark 10  years of  military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. The demonstrations against the Iraq war may not have stopped the war but they did shake the establishment and led in part to the downfall of Tony Blair
  • We can support the United Nations associations to help make this a stronger organisation that gets back to its original basis for existing
  • We can protest against our pension funds being invested in the arms trade as is in the case of Aberdeen City Councils pension fund.
  • Campaign Against the Arms Trade ( CAAT  ) will be holding their yearly demonstration on September 13th in London. ‘ Cut the Arms Trade not public services’. Please see:  Stop the War  or CAAT website.