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Challenging NATO’s militarism and the arms trade


US Army under a Creative Commons Licence

It should be no surprise that British Prime Minister David Cameron should use this week’s NATO summit in Wales as an opportunity to announce that the government will be spending £3.5 billion ($5.7 billion) on military vehicles. The summit itself is a celebration of militarism and force projection and is being attended by some of the biggest arms-dealing nations in the world.

This year, delegates have been joined by a number of oppressive and autocratic governments that make up NATO’s international ‘partners’. One of these is Bahrain, which has recently intensified its crackdown on dissent, with the arrest of prominent human rights campaigner Maryam Al-Khawaja. The Crown Prince, who is attending on behalf of Bahrain, is already facing serious allegations of torture.

NATO countries already represent 70 per cent of global military spending. Despite this, David Cameron is calling for members to increase the amount, with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stressing that ‘defence only pays out when you pay in’ and going so far as to warn of the dangers that would come from prioritizing social welfare.

The summit has the enthusiastic support of the arms trade, with BAE Systems, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin among the companies that are ‘providing financial backing’ for the event.

That’s the same BAE Systems whose armoured vehicles were deployed during the brutal suppression of democracy protests during the Arab Spring. The same Raytheon which makes military radars for the Israeli army; Lockheed Martin, the biggest arms company in the world, responsible for nuclear missiles and the drones that have haunted Afghan skies.

They are all being given the chance to promote their wares. There will be full-scale replicas of the Eurofighter Typhoon fast jet on display for delegates, and Britain is presently targeting many of the repressive regimes which make up NATO’s international ‘partners’ as potential Eurofighter buyers.

The arms industry thrives on war, and the companies themselves are quite explicit about the profit to be had from tension and conflict. As BAE put it in a 2010 annual report, ‘regional tensions combined with enduring high oil prices result in robust budgets and increasing opportunities’.

The close relationship between these companies and governments is well documented. Many have a revolving door between parliament and the arms trade, with a lot of time and money going into lobbying elected governments to ensure that more resources are pumped into arms at the same time as public services are cut.

For example, BAE routinely hoovers up at least 50 per cent of the inflated annual Research and Development and procurement budgets at Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and has several long-term contracts with the MoD that guarantee a minimum income of £230 million ($375 million) per year until 2025. BAE has managed to co-opt government to such an extent that it has secured a £300 million ($489 million) subsidy to build a new facility, and even had the government organize a visit to Saudi Arabia for Prince Charles to finalize an arms deal on its behalf.

The arms trade and the militarism that drives it are obscene, and that’s why so many are resisting NATO. Foreign policy is often done in the shadows, so every time that activists and local communities challenge the grip of militarism it unpicks the consent it assumes and drags its inhumanity into the public glare.

When Gaza was attacked this summer, we saw an indication of the scale of that resistance. Mass protests mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the world. This solidarity was complemented by a range of international actions, some linking back to the role of the arms trade in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Activists in Birmingham locked the gates and occupied the roof of Israeli drones manufacturer Elbit Systems, shutting the factory down for 36 hours. Ten days later, and thousands of miles away, an Elbit factory near Melbourne was occupied too.

What summits like NATO make clear is that government priorities couldn’t be further from those of ordinary people. Why is £3.5 billion ($5.7 billion) being spent on armoured vehicles while child poverty is soaring? Why do arms companies get such huge public subsidies while renewable energy, which could improve human security rather than undermine it, is so drastically underfunded?

It doesn’t need to be this way. Last week, Ecuador announced a 51-per-cent reduction in its military facilities – to be converted to public use as parks, hospitals or schools. This week, as people challenge NATO, they are also challenging the hold that arms companies have on governments. We don’t just want to end arms sales; we want to end the militaristic mindset that promotes them in the first place.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @wwwcaatorguk.

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