Eamonn McCann: Arms companies are in for a bonanza in the Middle East
‘London arms fair: Protesters from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Amnesty International and others are unlikely to breach the defensive ring’
Police officers attempt to negotiate with people taking part in a protest to block the arrival of military vehicles to the upcoming arms fair at the ExCel centre in east London. Photograph: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
More than 30,000 visitors are expected next week at the biannual arms fair organised by Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) at the ExCel Centre in London. The 2013 event drew 97 delegations from 56 countries, checking out the goods on offer from 1,489 “defence and security suppliers”, from handguns to fighter jets. The London Independent described the showcase as “where the world’s worst dictators love to shop”. Delegations came from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain, ranked 161 to 163 out of 167 states in the Economist Democracy Index.
DSEI was privatised by the Blair government in 1999 but continues to operate in the manner of a government agency. Invitations to the arms fair are issued by the ministry of defence. Visitors will have to pass through five security checks. Hundreds of armed police will be deployed. Protesters from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Amnesty International and others are unlikely to breach the defensive ring. The arms dealers will be able to ply their trade in peace. Middle Eastern states with dubious records on human rights will again be among the biggest spenders. Ordinary citizens may see the ocean of suffering and the pell-mell flight of millions as the most salient aspects of the turmoil engulfing the region. But arms manufacturers will note nothing problematical. Every arms company has a business interest in bloodshed. Those looking to sell to the Middle East can anticipate a bonanza.
Weapons bonanzaNew York Times CongressSaudi ArabiaJordanEgyptQatarFrance
The official British approach to the arms trade was clarified seven years ago when the High Court in London ruled the law had been broken when Tony Blair’s government intervened to bring to an end criminal proceedings arising from allegations of corruption in an arms deal between the Saudis and the UK’s biggest arms company, BAE. It was alleged the company had bribed Prince Bandar, head of the Saudi national security council, to the tune of £1 billion to secure the contract. BAE was claimed to have scattered the cash widely, providing lower-order princes with luxury cars, open-ended residence in opulent hotels, prostitutes and cash. The court heard Bandar had flown to London to meet Blair in December 2006 and had warned him Saudi Arabia would withdraw all intelligence co-operation with the UK if the case went ahead: a repeat of the July 2005 London bombings would thus be more likely. Mr Justice Moses expressed surprise that instead of demanding that the threat be withdrawn, the government had “rolled over . . . If that happened in our jurisdiction they [the government] would have been guilty of a criminal offence.”
The fact that Saudi Arabia was the main purveyor of the ideology of the July 7th bombers wasn’t mentioned in court, but ought to have been. The High Court decision was overturned by a House of Lords ruling that found the attempt to halt the case had not been unlawful.
In 2010, a US district judge said the company’s conduct involved “deception, duplicity and knowing violations of the law . . . on an enormous scale” – money paid to advisers assisting in the Saudi deals had been routed through US banks – and fined BAE $400 million.
Vice, corruption, lies and disdain for law as well as life are the hallmarks of the arms trade in general. But experience suggests nobody in the British political mainstream will show concern, much less shame, at the merchandising of murder in their capital next week.
Not every arms supplier will make it to the ExCel. The Russians aren’t coming. Nevertheless, Putin’s agents were in like Flynn to begin rearming the mullahs of Teheran within days of the lifting of sanctions as part of the Geneva nuclear deal. The horrendous potential of the Saudi-Iran confrontation has been ratcheted up. Israel has booked a “national pavilion”, advertising “combat-proven” weapons. Proven in asymmetrical assaults on Palestinian civilians, presumably.