Category Archives: Arms Trade

Car sharing with a person of mass destruction

Reposted from the following site:

Last weekend I car-shared for the first time. I’ve reached that level of broke. The level where you get in a car with a complete stranger, the only info you have about him being “Paul, male, 50-60 years old”. He offered me a lift to Sunderland free of charge and I was both intrigued to meet this man who offered something for nothing, and apprehensive. And I had reason to be. It turned out I could hardly have got into the car with a more dangerous person. When he told me what his job was I had two options… either get out of the car immediately, or play dumb and use this ridiculous opportunity to hear from the Head of Weapons at BAE Systems, a man responsible for the death of thousands. I chose the second option. “Is that the arms company?”

Inches away from me was a man who’d sold missiles to Gadaffi, fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. His F-16 fighter jets had bombarded Gaza and turned its children to dust. But I’m not going to describe the unforgivable horrors of war, anyone can do that. I stopped myself from voicing these thoughts and whenever the topic steered to his work (as often as possible without appearing too interested) I looked out of the window so that he wouldn’t see me shudder as he gave an insight into the world’s bloodiest industry.

Paul had an easy personality. He likes to sit in his car and stare out to sea, he goes on package holidays. He lives with his girlfriend and his son wants to study history. He likes curry. He laughs, he jokes, he smiles. He describes dropping missiles from planes as “sexy”. That’s what it was like! I would find myself inadvertently reciprocating his friendliness and then he would humiliate us both by bringing the obscenity of his work into the car with us. And it was a very small car. A flash car. He earns 100k a year, owns two cars (a Ferrari and the sports coupe we were in) and two houses, all paid for by the production and sale of instruments of war. UNICEF provides us with the overwhelming statistic that 90% of war casualties are civilian… and this man worked for the second largest arms company in the world, consciously profiting from the killing of innocents. How could he talk about likes and dislikes? How could he talk about retiring to the Lake District, when he’s provided machinery which has taken away that privilege from so many others? My mind was blown.

One protest I participated in against BAE Systems was what’s known as a “die-in”. It’s what it sounds like. At a careers fair at Lancaster University we wore bloody clothing and dropped dead at the BAE stall to illustrate what you sign up to when you deal in arms. Yet, when I asked Paul whether people ever reacted badly to his talks etc., he said no. He said one time a student got so excited by one of his talks he had an asthma attack, another time a student argued to the point of tears, but he spoke of these stories as light-hearted anecdotes and mentioned no other forms of protest. He’d trained himself not to acknowledge the segment of the population which makes it necessary for extra security measures to be taken when BAE enters campuses and which makes secrecy a fundamental feature of their company. He’d immunised himself to opposition.

Whilst he wouldn’t acknowledge arguments against, he did tell me why he was in favour of arms. You’ll be delighted to hear, he does it for us! Yes, for you and me. He said he sells arms “so that people like you” can have opinions on things. His example being that “if somewhere like Saudi Arabia was able to take control of us because we couldn’t defend ourselves with weapons, they’d force their way of life on us and women couldn’t drive”. Women, let’s be thankful that Paul at BAE is protecting our right to drive by selling arms to tyrannical regimes (including that of Saudi).

When we arrived in Sunderland I tore the smile off my face and vented my frustration on my unfortunate friend. The weekend passed too quickly in a delightful blur of rum and dancing (and rowing but that’s enough about THAT eh Leah?!:)<3) and when Sunday came I dreaded getting back in the car. But there was no alternative but to pretend again.

On the return trip I asked Paul if there were any restrictions on the kinds of weapons BAE are allowed to sell. He said yes, there are some, for example cluster bombs which BAE used to sell but are now not allowed to (these kill indiscriminately and are illegal under international law, the Convention on Cluster Munitions). He then said he knows BAE sell platforms which are bought with the explicit intention of dropping clusters from, therefore telling me that BAE’s only ethical policies are ones installed by law. He watched my expression as he said this. I hid my disgust shamefully well.

Soon after he surprised me by saying how, when he was at university,  the Palestinian and Jewish societies had competed to get more members than one another. Since we were nearly back I told him I was president of the Palestine solidarity society. He looked shocked I held a political stance on something. He surely wondered if I knew about the huge volume of BAE produce in the hands of the IDF. What he said next made me feel even worse than when he said he sold bombs for my benefit. “This is why the arms industry is so important. We need it for countries like Palestine. Because if Palestine had weapons, America would respect it. Israel would leave it alone.You need weapons to be able to defend yourself, to not be walked all over.” He then said Israelis have their army, but Palestinians too have their army. I told him no, the Palestinians have no comparable army (Palestinian annual military expenditure is $3 million, whereas Israel’s 2012 military expenditure was $15.2 billion). Paul has no idea of how his company’s sales influence politics because to him only countries with a large stockpile of weapons exist on the playing field. Weapons are sold to those who can afford them (or those who can’t, spending millions on weapons when their people live in poverty).

We reached Lancaster and I grew anxious about our parting moments. The car stopped. “It was nice to meet you” he said. I wondered if it was worth just leaving the car – he’d offered me lifts to Sunderland whenever I liked, and it could have been useful to know about future BAE plans on campus which had the potential to be disrupted… but after six hours I couldn’t let him leave thinking he’d made a friend. I said what I wanted, instead.

“When you first said you worked for BAE, I didn’t know whether to get straight out of the car, or wait and see if you could in any way justify what you do.” Realisation dawned on his face, and he turned away to look straight forward, sneering but listening. “I’ve listened to everything you’ve said. I may be a 20 year old arts student but I know what’s justified and what isn’t. You talk about women’s right in Saudi Arabia, then say you sell to Saudi. You say arms exist for countries like Palestine, yet you sell F-16s to the IDF which bomb Palestinian children. You say you sell weapons for people like me, so we can have liberty and opinions, but you can’t say that. You in no way represent me by what you do. You’re responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Your hands…” He’d become unrecognisable. I pitied him, but then I thought of his victims and their families.

“I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel horrible, but…” I began.

“I don’t feel horrible.”


Hope none of you expected anything more exciting to happen


This Is Not Ok

By Ruth Malcolm

Drawn by Ruth Malcolm in biro.

~ Art as Activism ~

Based on Campaign Against The Arms Trade’s ‘This is not OK’ campaign

In September the UK government plans to invite human rights abusing regimes such as China, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Bahrain, Russia and Saudi Arabia to the London arms fair to court them and sell them weapons.

Take action

BAE Systems: only the tip of the warhead

By Ben Mitchell

I really can’t believe that whether BAE Systems should be on campus or not is still an issue. I don’t think the company should exist, let alone have a recruitment stall at our careers fair. The debate has dragged on for so long and has accumulated so much bitterness on both sides that to mention it in polite conversation with non-activists is highly inadvisable. However, I shall soldier on with my article and come to peace with the possibility of some terrible puns.

BAE manufactures weapons. BAE Systems should not be invited onto campus because of that fact alone. Weapons manufacturers facilitate the legitimised murder of civilians as well as combatants.  Not only that, but BAE manufactures weapons AND sells them to states with atrocious human rights records (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Qatar, Zimbabwe, etc.[1]) BAE has also been found guilty of horrendous corruption by the UK and US governments [2], [3]. The references provided are just a taster of BAE’s misdemeanours. I don’t want to labour this point too much as a five-minute google search will more than adequately inform the reader of BAE System’s dubious ethics.

The story of BAE and Lancaster University is best begun with the George Fox Six. On the 10th September 2004, six students (five who studied or were studying at the Uni and one student from an affiliated institution) disrupted a corporate event with invitees including BAE, Shell, GSK and the Carlyle group [4], [5]. The protesters were only inside the building for a few minutes, but were nonetheless charged with aggravated trespass [6]. After a lengthy court battle, including an appeal, the George Fox Six were found guilty, fined £600 each and given conditional discharges of three years, six months [7]. In more recent years there have been many protests against BAE including “die-ins” and banner drops at the careers fair, where the company has a recruitment stall [8], [9].

A motion at the LUSU general meeting on 9th February last year proposed banning BAE systems from campus. The motion failed to meet the quorate of 200 despite the two earlier motions being passed successfully. I believe the motion to ban BAE failed mainly because of a lack of preparedness on the part of the LUSU exec.  It was only when this motion was being deliberated that the students in attendance were informed there was a necessary quorate of 200 [10]. However, with the large initial turnout (roughly 370) at the start of last year’s GM and the emergency meeting to oppose cuts to the music department (again, roughly 370), now seems to be a more fertile time for a union motion against BAE.

Especially since on Friday 15th March, Leeds University Union voted 826 to 804 in support of a motion banning BAE from campus [11], [12].  The motion included barring BAE from careers fairs, demanding that the University sells all shares in BAE and refusing any funding from BAE in the future. The protests at Leeds University careers fairs have been in a similar vein to those at Lancaster University [13], and many other Universities in the UK have a history of protesting BAE’s presence on their campuses (Bristol, Edinburgh, Southampton, UCL, etc.)[14] From what I could glean from comments on the Leeds Union comment section and the Leeds student newspaper, the circumstances surrounding the anti-BAE vote at Leeds sound similar to that at Lancaster. The campaign was supported by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and was very closely fought between the two sides of the issue (as evidenced by the voting record).

What is clear from both the Lancaster and Leeds experience of combating BAE is that the battle of ideas has not yet been won. Too many students are vehemently opposed to banning BAE Systems (or any other organisation) from campus. Some of the reactionary nonsense trotted out includes the “If BAE don’t make weapons, another company will” argument, which doesn’t justify weapons manufacture or BAE’s presence on campus and the “they employ students, so they should come to careers fairs” gibberish which implies that engineering and science graduates aren’t clever enough to find employment in bomb-making themselves. Finally, there’s my favourite; “There are other unethical companies at the careers fair, so why aren’t you picking on them?”

Firstly, there are other less-than-ethical companies present at the careers fair and I do disapprove of their practices. However, the question does raise a valid point; why are many companies at the careers fair engaged in unethical conduct? The answer is because they can make a profit from it. BAE Systems can turn a profit making weapons. So it makes weapons. HSBC can turn a profit laundering money for Mexican drug lords [15]. So it launders money for Mexican drug lords. I’m at a loss as to why some students are still surprised about unscrupulous goings-on in the world of business. Lancaster University has no ethical investment policy [16], despite a motion from LUSU as far back as 2006 [17] demanding the university to implement one. Given this, it is hardly surprising that the University is willing to associate with (and in the case of BAE actively invest in) companies which are unethical.

All companies exploit people to make a profit. It is just a case of how, where and who. In the case of BAE Systems the people exploited are its workers (in the extraction of surplus labour) and the victims of wars fought with BAE-manufactured weapons. I don’t view the exploitation of one group of people by another for personal profit as acceptable. The permeation of the profit motive into warfare results in the perpetuation and escalation of conflict worldwide. Not to mention the diversion of funds from beneficial public spending to destructive ends.

“Banning BAE from campus is going to end the arms trade” said no student activist ever. It’s a small step in the right direction. That’s all. We need to be making the case that the arms trade exists as a predictable eventuality of capitalism running its course. There are systemic problems within capitalism that need to be confronted by ordinary students, not explained away or ignored. BAE apologists are trying to have their cake and eat it too (something leftists get accused of far too often); the profit motive is responsible for its victims as well as its beneficiaries.

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  1. – A damning list of BAE’s crimes.
  2. – BAE corruption over a Tanzanian air-traffic control deal.
  6. – An online activist magazine from Lancaster. Well worth a read.
  12. – I’d recommend anyone to read the comments from this website, as they’re pretty standard BAE apologist arguments.
  16. – Information on Lancaster University investment.