After a week-long trial that ended on April 15, a judge from the Stratford Magistrate Court in London found me and seven co-defendants not guilty for our actions last September to shut down the Defence Security and Equipment International arms fair, or DSEI, on the basis that we were preventing a greater crime. This is a huge victory in the long struggle to shut down one of the largest arms fairs in the world, which takes place in east London every other year.
This article first appeared on Waging Nonviolence.
The last fair was in September 2015, and it saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest technology of the war industry. DSEI is an invitation-only event, where invites go to governments, industry representatives and specialized press. Delegations from repressive regimes and countries violating human rights — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel — walk through its corridors every other year browsing the latest weaponry. This huge event is not just to showcase the latest technology, but also to facilitate new sales.
My first action against DSEI was in 2005, after I had recently moved to London from Chile. That year I joined Critical Mass, which biked through the streets of London with loud sound systems and colorful signs against the arms fair. We biked to the Excel Centre — the venue where the arms fairs happens — and for the first time in my life I saw people lying on the ground using arm tubes to lock themselves to each other to make the job of removing them harder for the police. I was impressed by the number of people taking action against an arms fair. However, friends told me that the turnout was lower than in 2003, when huge numbers protested against DSEI, and there was a high level of police repression. In Chile I had been part of a very small group of people protesting a public aerospace show called FIDAE. Schools and families see it as a nice day out, while in London the fair was closed to the public and took place with a high degree of secrecy.
I continued to join Critical Mass against DSEI almost every time it came to London and participated in marches, attended conference and wrote articles about the fair. For several years the number of people protesting continued to decline. By 2009, I wrote about how hard it is to mobilize for DSEI because of the difficulty of building momentum for an event that happens every other year and to which people could see no end. But I also argued it was part of the cycle of a campaign to feel that things are stagnated before they pick up again. This was exactly what happened with DSEI, as an increase in the number of people and the range of actions took place in 2011. This was due in large part to a new coalition formed earlier that year called Stop the Arms Fair, which brought together many organizations and activist that revitalized the campaign to shut down DSEI.
At every DSEI action, the strategy was more or less the same: to disrupt its proceedings while it was happening. Using a combination of direct action, marches and meetings to raise public awareness we hoped to stop people from attending the fair. We also wanted to bring attention to the role of the fair in the war machine and to the institutions that facilitate it — for example, the museums and venues hosting official DSEI receptions and dinners.
In 2013, there was an important change to the strategy. A “Big Day of Action” took place the Saturday before the DSEI started, followed by a week of action during the actual fair. On the Saturday action, activists managed to block the entrance to the Excel Centre for several hours with no equipment accessing the site. This success showed the way forward for the struggle against the arms fair — the key being to stop it before it began.
Stopping the preparations
This was the strategy during a week-long self-organized set of actions with specific focuses each day for 2015. It all started on September 7 with a day of action to stop arming Israel. The first action was a blockade — for hours — of an armored vehicle that was heading to the Excel Centre. On the days that followed there were actions focused on faith groups against war profiteering, the arms trade and climate change, academics against the arms trade, and freedom of movement, not of weapons. The week concluded with a “Big Day of Action.” The Stop the Arms Fair coalition and Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, provided the general frame for the different focuses each day and supported groups taking actions, but each group doing an action was self-organized.
By connecting the issue of the arms trade to other struggles — such as Palestinian solidarity, climate change and refugees — it meant that a diversity of groups got involved during the week. Important bridges were built between movements, and the arms trade was seen not as an isolated problem but rather as part of the wider struggle for social justice.
In early 2015, I moved to Belgium and received an invitation from the Belgian peace organization Vredesactie, or Peace Action, to join them in going to DSEI. Vredesactie runs the campaign I Stop the Arms Trade, which focuses on the European Union’s support of the arms industry. Soon after moving to Belgium I got involved in their campaign and occupied the offices of the lobbying organization AeroSpace and Defence Industry Association of Europe to draw attention to the European Union’s support for war profiteering.
Initially I was going to London primarily to observe and to hold meetings to build collaborations between Vredesactie and CAAT, but — after several exchanges between the five of us traveling from Belgium — we decided that three of us would blockade using arm tubes and that the other two would provide support and do media work. In short, we had a small affinity group.
We decided to do our action on the Big Day of Action called for on September 12, which had the aim of gathering as many people as possible to continue to disrupt preparations for the arms fair. During the morning of the action there were speeches from a wide range of groups and organizations. As the day progressed, we took the streets and the police began to remove us to let the traffic pass. At one point, the police were taking longer to act, and the three of us took our gear, ran to the road and got on the ground, locking ourselves together using the arm tubes.
This meant we had secured the blockade for some time, as the police in the United Kingdom — in most cases — will not just move you if you are locking on. The blockade provided a perfect place for people to gather, and a loudspeaker was used to continue with presentations. During the hours that we were on the blockade we heard from Isa Alaali, a Bahraini citizen, about the torture he experienced, as well as the U.K. military’s support of the Bahraini regime. We also heard from Mexican activists about the Ayotzinapa struggle for justice and the militarization of Mexican society.
From the beginning, the police came to tell us that if we didn’t unlock ourselves they would arrest us. But they didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Hours passed and there was no sign that they were going to cut our tubes and arrest us. After several hours the police finally made their move, clearing the road of all the other protesters. In the end, they arrested the three of us on charges of willful obstruction of the highway.
Even though at any moment we could have released ourselves and avoided arrest, we wanted to maintain the blockade to disrupt the preparations of the arms fair for as long as possible. We were also aware that arrest could mean being charged and put on trial, but we didn’t really think much about it at the time. Our focus was on the action itself. After the arrest we were in custody for only a few hours before being given an order to come back to court a month later.
Putting the arms trade on trial
That court appearance was crucial. We could either plead guilty and pay a fine or plead not guilty and face a trial. It was not just the three of us in court, but everyone who had been arrested during the week of action against DSEI. For some time I was unsure what to plea. I wasn’t really in the position to face a long trial, and it seemed that the chances of winning in court were small. But at the same time I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to use the court in campaigning, as I had been arrested in the past but never gone to court. The fact that all the other arrestees were clear on pleading not guilty helped me make the decision. This was a collective action and we would treat the trial collectively as well. The goal was to put the arms trade on trial by facing trial ourselves.
At the court hearing the judge then set a date in February for the trial to give the necessary time to collect the evidence. The lawyers managed to unite all the cases into one — at first there were three separate cases — so that there would only be one trial for all of us. Both the lawyers and defendants could then combine efforts, and also crucially we could all use the same expert witnesses.
The initial February date was moved to April. Between the time of the first court appearance and the trial, there was a huge amount of work to do, primarily by the team of lawyers building the case, but also by the co-defendants. Our task was to find expert witnesses who could give evidence about the illegalities at DSEI, as well as the larger impact of the arms trade. We also worked on the visibility of the case, by writing a statement from the co-defendants and organizing a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraising event.
During the trial, which was scheduled to last five days, we heard evidence from all eight co-defendants. Among them was Alaali, who was forced to flee Bahrain after being imprisoned and tortured for his participation in the 2011 protests. During the uprising, thousands of Bahrainis protested and were crushed by force with a violent intervention from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed. Isa told the court that he was arrested three times in 2013, and that police held a gun to his head. He was taken to the police station and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. The police tied his hands behind his back, beat him and threatened to cut off his penis in an effort to force him to give false confessions. Bahrain has purchased nearly $65 million of weapons from the United Kingdom since the 2011 uprising. Needless to say, Isa felt compelled to protest at DSEI.
Lisa Butler, another co-defendant, highlighted the ongoing mass killings of the Kurdish people by Turkey. Having visited Kurdistan recently, she explained to the judge about the violent curfews that have been imposed on Kurdish cities. Tanks and rockets have been firing shells and mortars into the cities and snipers have been gunning people down on the street, including children. Instead of banning Turkey from DSEI, the British government welcomed these war criminals with open arms.
Other defendants stated that they were particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel. As such, they were compelled to act because illegal weapons, such as torture equipment, have been found at previous DSEI events.
“In every single previous arms fair, at least since 2005, illegal activity has been found to be happening,” co-defendant Tom Franklin told the court. “We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports. We have reports from Amnesty International. We have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold.”
When my turn came to give evidence I was quite nervous. The entire time that I was being cross-examined by the prosecution I felt like I was giving the wrong answers, undermining my case. But at the same time, I knew that it was the right thing to do — to stand there and denounce the crimes happening at DSEI. My statement also focused on growing up in Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the impact this had on me as a kid.
“I lived under a dictatorship for nearly 10 years. I remember curfews and a general sense of fear of the police and the military due to the horrible regime’s repression,” I testified. “The father of my school classmate was murdered by the secret police when I was six years old.” I also mentioned in court that for many years I had been protesting in different ways against DSEI and that for me the action was not just about ending the sale of illegal weapons, but to shut down the fair as a step toward stopping the war machine. After giving evidence, there was a huge weight taken off me.
We were joined in court by expert witnesses. Among them was Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International, who talked about the illegal weapons that have been sold at every DSEI arms fair. He also highlighted the “legal” weapons that are used illegally. In his report, Sprague gave evidence of arms being used in the Yemen war. “[The Yemen] conflict has cost at least 3,000 civilian lives, 2.5 million people [have been] displaced and 82 percent of the population — some 21.2 million people — currently require some form of humanitarian assistance,” he testified. “Importantly, official delegations from countries directly involved in military action in Yemen were in receipt of official U.K. government invitations to the event, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan.”
Sprague told the court that Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of U.K. arms. Indeed, from July to September 2015, the British government granted export licenses for bombs — of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia — worth $1.7 billion. This was four times greater than the total exported to all countries in the previous four years.
A key moment in the trial happened when the defense asked Sprague what difference all the evidence he has given to Parliament and other official committees about the crimes taking place at DSEI has made. “I have to say all this has made zero difference,” he replied, which supported our argument that it was necessary to take direct action to stop these illegalities from happening.
Kat Hobbs of CAAT gave the court an overview of Clarion Events, the company that organizes DSEI. “Sixty-one countries were formally invited to DSEI in 2015 by the government, and many more were invited by Clarion, who advertised the fair as the ‘place to do business,’” she said. “Of those 61 countries, 14 are classified as being authoritarian and six are at war, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”
Acquitted for preventing a greater crime
After the week-long trial it was time for the judge to present his judgement. “The defendants belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by the detailed expert evidence on this point,” he stated. “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant … as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI … I believe that the defendants were perfectly sincere in their conclusions first that the unlawful sale of arms would almost certainly be occurring at DSEI and, secondly, that their intervention was necessary to seek to prevent this.”
We were acquitted of all charges on the basis that our actions were justified in order to prevent a greater crime. It was “a wonderful moment in which research, activism and the law came together to produce a crucial decision,” said arms trade expert and former member of the South African Parliament Andrew Feinstein. “It is in this way that we will ultimately change the nature of the global arms trade.”
Since the trial verdict there has been extensive media coverage and interest in the case. There have also been calls for the government and the Metropolitan Police to investigate DSEI, but investigations have happened in the past, and as Sprague said, they have made zero difference. Therefore, it is crucial to continue to take action to shut down the fair.
The day of the verdict CAAT sent out a pledge for people to take action in 2017 and already nearly 500 people inspired by the court verdict have signed it. Among activists, there is a belief that next time, if we have enough people willing to put their bodies on the line — combined with other forms of actions — we can actually shut the arms fair down for good.
On 25 February a so-called 'Group of Personalities' (GoP) released the report 'European Defence Research: The case for an EU-funded defence R&T programme'. It argues for the inclusion of military research in the next round of the Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, the EU instrument for funding research projects. The report was written at the request of the European Commission.
This article by Stop Wapenhandel was first published here.
The Group of Personalities (GoP) that wrote this report, consists of 16 members. Nine of these are industry representatives (from Indra, MBDA, Saab, TNO, Airbus, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Frauenhofer and Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg). Also participating is Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, who is also head of the European Defence Agency. Civil society is not represented in the group.
The EU has been funding industrial research under Framework Programmes for many years. The current cycle, called Horizon 2020, is running from 2014 to 2021. While military research has been exempt from EU-funding until now, the military and security industry already found their niche in the 'security' part of these programs, with hundreds of millions of euros of annual funding. The security research program was set up on advice of another 'Group of Personalities' which was also dominated by industry representatives. Claiming the EU needs to bolster its military posture and that support for defence industry would create many jobs, the European Commission first proposed EU-funded military research in the summer of 2013. Two years later the Commission announced the launch of a pilot programme: the Preparatory Action (PA) on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)-related research, to start in 2017.
In the meantime, in March 2015, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, set up the 'Group of Personalities'. The objective was clear from the start: “Securing the long-term future for our defence industry is in all our interests. Both nationally and collectively. The Commission can play an important supporting role to reinforce national defence industries and research capacities.”
The Group of Personalities is enthusiastically elaborating on this in the recently published report. It starts with alarming language about the perceived state of the European military industry and the way this supposedly threatens European security. It stresses that EU funding for military R&T (a European Defence Research Programme (EDRP)) is necessary, also “in view of the possible need to strenghten Europe's overall military posture” and to create a “level of strategic autonomy”. More spending on R&T is needed now, or else “the required capabilities”, build on “ decades of hard-earned experience on how to develop effective leading-edge knowledge-based military systems”, “will have dissipated”.
Against this background existing spending on security research is clearly considered not enough: “The current framework for security research within Horizon 2020 [...] is providing only limited support even to dual-use projects, even in those pillars such as ‘Border and External Security’ where the technology required can be similar to (or derived Europe’s defence research: the EU’s added value from) that used for defence capabilities, thus missing out on opportunities to enhance interoperability between civil protection and military forces. These instruments may also need to be refocused, adjusted and better coordinated if they are to produce any significant benefits.”
Key recommendations include:
- For the Preparatory Action (PA) “a balanced approach should ensure that foreground IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] be vested in the consortium partners in the case of grants, that background IPR be protected and that the recipients make a package of information available to the EU and member states explaining the aim of the research and summarising the results achieved.”
- “[...] only legal entities in the 28 EU member states (plus Norway) should be eligible to participate.”
- “The PA should aim at providing full 100% coverage of the eligible direct costs, plus a percentage higher than 25% - and surely no lower than that of non-EU competitors – for additional costs. Options for co-funding by member states should also be considered […].”
- “The PA/EDRP should […] be part of a broader European defence policy framework […] aimed at facilitating and enabling defence cooperation at all levels.”
- “[...] a total of 75-100 million euros should be earmarked for the PA”
- “[...] the PA should lead to a major dedicated EDRP as part of the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2021-27). […] the EDRP will need a total budget of at least 3.5 billion euros for the period 2021-27 in order to be credible and make a substantial difference.” (“[a] budget large enough to make a real difference, but without leading the member states to further reduce their national defence budgets.”)
- “[...] findings and results [of the EU-funded defence R&T framework programme] should be supported which are meaningful enough to stimulate subsequent multinational and national development acquisition programmes”, while “it is essential that research rests upon sound market principles. Its results must have market potential, be cost-effective and boost industrial competetiveness together with cooperation.”
According to the GoP this should all be accompanied by a large role for the military industry: “To assist with the preparation of the EDRP, the logic of the Group of Personalities should be transferred to a dedicated ‘European Defence Advisory Board’ (EDAB). This board would advise on all aspects of the Defence Action Plan, give strategic guidance on the principle, structure and modalities of the EDRP, inform its research agenda, and play an active part in the definition of a long-term European military capabilities blueprint, building on the ongoing debate about a possible European defence ‘White Book’. Such an EDAB would also have direct access to the highest level of the EU institutions to ensure clarity of purpose and consistency of action in the preparation and negotiation of the next MFF. ”
So, in short: the European military and security industry wants at least half a billion euros a year to fund military research, from which the results can largely be kept secret, with the industry having a large say in the way European military policy is going to be shaped in the next decades. The report 'European Defence Research' is a shameless piece of self-promotion and demanding money and other support, without even touching on the question what military research will contribute to improving the lives of people in and outside the EU. Nevertheless, just as earlier with the set up of EU-funded security research, it has to be feared that this report will indeed form the basis on which EU-funding for military research will move forward.
Read the full report here.
This afternoon up to thirty activists interrupted the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Around 1:30 PM, activists poured red paint at the entrance to the conference where European policy makers and the arms industry are convening to discuss the future of European defence.
This afternoon up to thirty activists interrupted the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Around 1:30 PM, activists poured red paint at the entrance to the conference where European policy makers and the arms industry are convening to discuss the future of European defence.
“While the Middle-East is burning, the EU arms export to the region is at its highest level ever”, says one of the activists. “The fact that European politicians are meeting with the CEOs of the arms industry behind closed doors is, therefore, unacceptable.”
Several high-level politicians such as Federica Mogherini, high representative for foreign affairs, and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, as well as the CEOs of the European arms companies MBDA and Finmeccanica are expected to attend the conference.
European arms in conflicts worldwide
One of the aims of the EDA is to strengthen the European arms industry. High on the agenda today is public funding for research in arms technology and strengthening European military capabilities.
“Strengthening the arms industry does not lead to a secure Europe in a safer world. On the contrary. European weapons are being used in conflicts worldwide and are a catalyst for violence and conflict,” says Bram Vranken, spokesperson for Vredesactie.
Arms export numbers soaring
The European arms export has steadily increased over the past decade. The number of arms exported has doubled in just 10 years. In 2012 alone EU member states exported weapons for a total amount of 40 billion euros.
One reason for this is the liberalisation of European export policy. A 2009 directive substantially facilitated the trade of military equipment between EU member states.
“While the EU arms trade has been liberalised, there is no equivalent EU control policy. Arms can easily leave the EU through the member state with the weakest legal framework,” says Vranken. “It is not a surprise that dictators can easily buy European weapons.”
Of the 51 regimes labeled as "authoritarian" by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2012, 43 were able to buy weapons in the European Union.
The second biggest importer of EU arms is Saudi Arabia. Despite the gross violations of international humanitarian law that Saudi Arabia is committing in Yemen, it is still able to buy European weapons.
“If politicians really want to tackle the fundamental causes of conflicts, why do they not begin by stopping the arms trade,” Vranken continues.
EU exports insecurity
One of the attendees at the annual conference is Giovanni Soccodato, Vice President of the arms company Finmeccanica. In 2012, Wikileaks revealed that the company sold communication equipment to Syrian security forces despite the on-going civil war and an EU arms embargo imposed on the country.
“While the arms industry exports weapons to dictators and conflict zones, it receives a warm welcome here today. We are preventing this from happening,” says one of the activists.
In early September 2015, Belgian peace activists were arrested in London. Their crime? Trying to prevent the world’s largest arms fair from going ahead.
In early September 2015, Belgian peace activists were arrested in London. Their crime? Trying to prevent the world’s largest arms fair from going ahead. The British courts are bringing proceedings against them for ‘obstructing traffic’. “The real criminals can go about their business while peaceful protest is nipped in the bud,” argues Bram Vranken, one of the accused.
The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair was held in London from 15 to 18 September. The DSEI is the world’s largest arms fair, with a total of 30,000 visitors. Arms companies from all over the world come here to sell their wares. A wide variety of products was on sale, ranging from guns and tanks to fighter aircraft and even warships. The fair attracted around 30,000 visitors including representatives of regimes that do not respect human rights and countries that are at war.
Torture devices and cluster munitions
As many as 1,500 arms companies exhibited their wares at DSEI this year, ranging from giants such as BAE Systems, Thales, Finmeccanica and Airbus to highly specialised companies making products such as tear gas grenades.
Illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and torture devices have been exhibited at every edition of the fair since 2005. Whether illegal weapons were present this year is not known: the Amnesty International weapons expert who was aiming to investigate this was denied access. We do know that this year’s exhibitors included two companies that produce torture devices and one manufacturer of cluster munitions.
Belgian companies were among the exhibitors. FN Herstal, the Belgian Security and Defence Industry association (BSDI), Esterline Belgium and Xenics were all present. FN Herstal is renowned for its guns. As many as half of European exports of small arms to the Arab world come from Belgium.
Arms exports pour fuel on the fire
War begins at events such as the DSEI arms fair, where not only arms dealers but also politicians are welcome guests.
Little is known about the 30,000 customers who come to buy arms at DSEI. What is certain is that they include many official delegations and military customers. We also know that the British government officially invited 61 countries to send a delegation. The invitees included authoritarian regimes, countries that do not respect human rights, and countries that are at war. The guest list featured no fewer than 14 countries which can be considered as authoritarian according to the Economist Democracy Index, among them Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Bahrain. The list also comprises four countries known not to respect human rights, and six countries currently at war including Iraq, Pakistan and Ukraine.
The trading of arms at fairs such as these has global implications. Weapons have no expiry dates and remain in circulation for a long time. European arms and munitions pour fuel on the fire and feed the conflicts that rage at our external borders.
Stop the arms fair
A coalition of peace movements and activists under the banner “Stop The Arms Fair” joined battle against the DSEI arms fair. For a week hundreds of protestors peacefully blockaded the access roads leading to the ExCel centre seeking to prevent the setting up of the arms fair. Action also took place during the fair itself. Twelve people were arrested and are scheduled to appear in court in April 2016. They include two Belgians.
The defendants are accused of obstructing traffic, an offence which carries a maximum fine of £ 1,500. “We will plead not guilty,” says Bram Vranken, one of the accused activists. “The British legal system allows a law to be broken in order to prevent a greater crime. That was exactly what we were trying to do with our action. After all, European weapons claim many victims all over the world.”
At a first court hearing on 11 November, the activists had to propose their expert witnesses. The court accepted the activists’ legal arguments and approved the expert witnesses.
Andrew Feinstein, journalist and author of the book Merchants of death, and Olly Sprague, arms expert at Amnesty International, have already announced that they will testify in the activists’ defence. Sprague has been monitoring the DSEI arms fair for many years. Every year since 2005, he has discovered illegal weapons on show, ranging from torture devices to cluster munitions. This year he was refused entry.
“Last Wednesday the British court accepted our expert witnesses and gave the green light to continue with our legal arguments. So now it is not us but the arms dealers who are in the dock,” says Vranken.
Bram, one of the activists, takes up the story:
We tried in non-violent ways to stop the fair being set up. The two roads leading to the ExCel centre where the fair was to be held were blockaded by hundreds of people for more than four hours to stop trucks delivering their war materials. This had a real effect. The setting up of the fair was delayed for hours until the police decided to arrest us. I then spent several hours in a cell, and after that was told I would be prosecuted.
We are being prosecuted for ‘obstructing traffic’. But the only traffic that day was heading for the DSEI arms fair. As if it’s not bad enough that the fair can be held in the first place, those who oppose it are being dragged through the courts. Peaceful protest is criminalised while war criminals act with impunity. I will plead not guilty. Not because I deny the facts I am charged with, but because I believe they were necessary to prevent a greater crime.
The weapons used to fight conflicts worldwide are exported from Europe. The DSEI fair is a key link in the chain of conflict and violence. So it is here that we can stop this.
The European arms trade destroys thousands of lives, while European legislation is systematically weakened for the benefit of commercial interests. Europe talks a lot about tackling the root causes of flows of refugees. If Europe is sincere, it should start by stopping the arms trade.
Do you want to support the defendants financially? You can do that through this crowdfunding page.
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The issue of the respect of migrants’ human rights at the borders of the European Union is usually addressed from a humanitarian angle (guilty of negligence to basic migrant rights) or a political one (the question of migratory flux management and distribution), the subject is rarely connected to the European arms market.
“Europe is at war against an imaginary enemy” - this is Frontexit’s campaign slogan regarding the respect of migrants’ human rights at the borders of the European Union. Usually addressed from a humanitarian angle (guilty of negligence to basic migrant rights) or a political one (the question of migratory flux management and distribution), the subject is rarely connected to the European arms market. And yet…
Brussels is the European capital and second largest city after Washington in terms of its current numbers of lobbyists who represent the interests of different industries such as cigarette manufacturing, finance... and arms. Their mission? To do everything in their power to influence current and future EU policies. And companies such as Thales Group, BAE Systems and Finmeccanica, considered to be the jewels of the European arms industry, are making efforts. A bit of background information:
- Thales Group, first of all, is a company which stemmed from France’s partial privatisation of the arms industry and is very active in the domain of lobbying in Brussels. Its turnover for 2013 was €14.2 billion. Thales Group, in collaboration with the Spanish company Aerovision, introduced its new surveillance system for coastal and marine borders in 2012 - a drone called FULMAR which was specifically introduced and tested during a three day demonstration for FRONTEX (Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union). Thales Group’s press release said the following “The surveillance and control of borders are essential to guarantee the internal security of a nation. With the increase in risks and threats (clandestine immigration, drug trafficking, terrorist threats, etc.), governments are demanding higher levels of security for their borders.”
BAE Systems is the biggest arms manufacturer in the UK and Europe, and the second biggest in the world, with 95% (€30 billion) of its turnover coming from selling weapons. In 2010 BAE Systems received €2.3 million contract to develop a “Serious Crime and Immigration Information Management System (SCIIMS)”.
Finmeccanica is the second largest Italian company with a turnover of €14.6 billion . The company, through its branch Selex and with Thales Group, is part of the OPERAMAR project whose aim is to establish relations between the European Union and those employed under the national maritime surveillance. OPERAMAR, along with several other projects, forms the backbone for EUROSUR (European Border Surveillance System). EUROSUR was introduced by the European Commission with the following words: “Our aim with EUROSUR is to avoid illegal border crossing, to reduce the number of immigrants dying at sea and to reinforce the European Union’s internal security by contributing to the prevention of transborder crime”. Finmeccanica signed a contract with Gadaffi’s Libya in 2009 to install a surveillance system which could stop migrants coming to Italy via Libya.
These three companies, plus Airbus Group (formerly EADS) form what is called “the great four” - the four biggest companies in the European arms industry. And from time to time they publicly address the decision-makers; in 2003 the CEOs of Thales Group, BAE Systems and EADS wrote an open letter (which was published in several national European newspapers) to call for the creation of the European Defence Agency. This was created in July 2004 thanks to intense lobbying from the arms industry… and to the tenacious work of the consulted experts in its development. Experts who work for BAE Systems and EADS and whose work has never been made public.
One of the European Defence Agency’s duties is “to establish a global and systematic approach to define the needs of European Security and Defence Policy and to respond to these needs”. In other words, this agency must define the needs of the European Defence Policy while at the same time being under the influence of lobbyists from the same sector! The European Defence Agency is now integrated into the European External Action Service (the European Minister for Foreign Affairs) where the main decisions are made by the Council, that is to say the leaders of the EU member states, and as such by the national governments who are heavily implicated in the arms industry themselves.
The aforementioned projects have benefited from financial aid which has come from FP7, an EU fund which is used to help businesses finance their research in high technology. In 2010 the amount allocated to adopt military surveillance techniques for Europe’s border was estimated to be around €50 million. As public money is not to be used for military-orientated projects, businesses devise programmes with a dual purpose - civil and military - which is allowed. In 2014, the European Space Agency launched the satellite Sentinel (the first in a series of satellites whose launches will be clear in 20 years) for a planet observation mission. The images are readily available to citizens, scientists and businesses...It’s about “better protecting our planet and improving our citizens’ lives”, but “the images from Sentinel will also be crucial in maintaining Europe’s maritime security” (e.g. fishery, drug trafficking, border control). The fight against illegal immigration, by boat, for example, is not the aim of Sentinel’s images, but these images can be used to help national systems to control borders.
In order for funds to be allocated to projects which fulfil the EU’s needs, the European Commission needs to correctly identify the flaws. Affected by a chronic deficit of internal experts, the Commission regularly consults external ones. The Security Advisory Group is composed of 32 people, a third of whom come from the arms industry (Airbus Group, Finmeccanica, Thales Group). This group must indicate the flaws regarding the EU’s security technology…. then these experts will reprise their roles within the weapons industry and work on a project which, after being financed by Horizon 2020, will lead to a finished product (drone, satellite, armoured personal carrier)... which will be commercialised and benefit the company in question. Just like in the European Defence Agency’s case, there is an obvious conflict of interest.
The group consultants for security have met in Brussels a good twenty times which has resulted in an increase in European border security.
“Europe is at war with an imaginary enemy” then. An enemy, the migrant, systematically described as “illegal” and presented by the arms industry itself as a package of problems that needs resolving in the same way as crime, terrorism or drugs. In order to resolve “this migratory and security problem”, specialists and external experts, who have come directly from the defence industry, are called upon for assistance. They transform this “problem” into a fault that rapidly needs fixing by the EU and produce adequate products which, after being financed by European public money, will go to line the pockets of companies such as Thales Group, Finmeccanica and BAE Systems. The arms industry is not and will never be a business like others - it is able to to produce policies which justifies risking migrants’ lives, an economy which justifies this policy, and weapons which carry it out.
Translation: Lewis Sinkala
New on this website: In our Q&A we answer some frequently asked questions about the arms trade, en we go over all the facts and figures.
New on this website: In our Q&A we answer some frequently asked questions about the arms trade, en we go over all the facts and figures.
Did you know that the European member states taken as a whole is one of the biggest arms exporters in the world? Where do all these arms end up? Who profits? Who is taking the bullets? Why is there so little control? Is it true that Europe only rarely refuses an export licence? And who still dares to claim that Europe promotes peace?
Read all about it in our Q&A.
The office of the arms lobby group AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) was closed down by peace activists. About twenty activists handed over letters of dismissal to the employees and took over the office.
5 May 2014. Peace activists made a stand in the very place where arms are promoted, in the heart of the European quarter in Brussels. Behind the walls of many grey office buildings, arms dealers are lobbying decision-makers. Behind a closed sliding door is the office of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).
The activists had previously attended the action training 'I stop the arms trade'. They entered peacefully, took over the office and handed over letters of dismissal to the staff. The reason for the dismissals? Complicity in the killing machine of the arms trade.
The ASD is the voice of the defence industry in Europe. As an umbrella organisation ASD represents the interests of 16 large European businesses and 27 interest groups from 20 countries. The executives of the ASD are also the CEOs of Europe's biggest arms companies, including BAE Systems, Airbus, Finmeccanica, Thales, Rolls Royce, Safran, and Saab. In 2012, the turnover of the European arms industry was 96 billion Euros. Almost 40 billion of this amount was designated for export. The current head of ASD is Mauro Moretti, also the head of Finmeccanica. Via their affiliate AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica supplies fighter helicopters to regimes in Algeria, Libya, and Turkey.
ASD's main mission is to strengthen the European arms industry, by shaping EU legislation and policies as well as by securing public funding opportunities.
As the voice of the arms industry, ASD speaks with top politicians and civil servants inside and outside the European institutions. With privileged access to the European institutions, ASD leaves its mark on EU policy. This was evident in 2009 with the creation of the 'Defence package': two European Directives which form one of the key pieces of EU legislation on the arms trade.
Since the 90’s European defence companies have clustered to be able to compete with the American giants. Now a handful of large companies dominate the European defence sector. They see internal controls as an obstacle in the development and trade of arms systems. To simplify collaboration with affiliates in various countries, the arms industry pushed the European Union to deregulate. The Defence Package meets this demand of the arms industry: it simplifies arms trade within the EU. Due to the elimination of control at the borders between member states, weapons can now be exported worldwide via the European country with the least stringent export rules.
The 2009 Directives definitely made European arms export rules less strict. Export control continues to be a national domain, but responsibilities of governments and control mechanisms disappear along with weapons over national borders. The arms industry desperately needs an expansive trade of weapons to conflict regions in order to be profitable. That we are exporting a catalyst for violent conflict is an after-thought. For example, in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, European arms export licences to the Arab region amounted to nine billion Euros, twice as much as in 2007.
With the Defence Package, the arms industry got the 'harmonisation' that they were looking for. In their annual report, ASD congratulated themselves for their successful lobbying work.
Before they propose new legislation, the European Commission publishes a “green book” to seek comments from interested parties. In this way, ASD could already include their comments before any legislation was actually proposed. During the “collaborative procedure” that followed, ASD established a special committee to co-ordinate the lobbying efforts of the companies that they represent. The goal was to influence the discussions between the European Parliament and the Council. The icing on the cake was the 2008 speech by Ake Svensson, then president of ASD and CEO of Saab, to the European Parliament. Later, ASD monitored local implementations of the Directives and exerted pressure when necessary. In this whole process, ASD had a privileged position, from preliminary discussions, to editing of the policy texts, and even checking the implementation.
Public Money for Weapons
ASD lobbyists also exercise their influence in the domain of public finance of research. The arms industry develops ever more technically advanced weapon systems and subsystems. So they try to feed at the trough of public subsidies for scientific research.
By the letter of the law, European research money may not be used for the development of weapon technology. In practice, within the FP7-Security program, which ran from 2007 to 2013, 1.4 billion Euro was available for “civil security research”. By embellishing their intentions, arms manufacturers managed to help themselves to a sizeable sum out of this research fund.
The current EU research program Horizon 2020, keeps this civil focus. But there's no objections to research of which the results can also be used to increase military capacity. So-called dual-use products can now be financed openly in this way. The arms lobby is grinning like a hyena.
The European Commission is now preparing the next long-term budget, from 2020 to 2027. The arms industry is lobbying to make sure that the EU will then directly and openly fund military research. And with success. The European Commission wants to launch a so-called 'preparatory action' to look into the added value of military research. At the European Council meeting in December 2013, while Vredesactie protested the further militarisation of the EU, the Council decided to set up a “high-level group of personalities” to study this. This “independent advisory council” has recently become active. Seven of seventeen members come straight from ASD's board or working groups. Europe’s biggest arms suppliers are dictating policy again. Unfortunately, it is not new that industry is heavily over-represented in the expert groups designing policy. Critical voices are missing.
It is Time to Stop them
Behind closed doors, arms dealers meet decision-makers, lobby for less export control, and promote their weapons. With a bespoke policy for the benefit of the arms industry, European values have no meaning. Europe is one of the biggest arms exporters on earth. This creates problems. Weapons are never neutral. They are used in bloody, violent conflicts. Weapons have no expiry date. European weapons pop up in conflicts and increase insecurity worldwide.
On May 5th peace activists tried to stop the arms trade. They closed down the ASD office and handed over letters of dismissal to the employees. Business as usual was disturbed until the police intervened. This was only the beginning. Join us and stop the arms trade!
This action is part of the campaign istopthearmstrade.eu of Vredesactie and Agir pour la Paix.
istopthearmstrade.eu maps the arms trade, exposes arms dealers and intervenes there where it can stop the arms trade.
With our non-violent actions we prevent arms dealers from selling their weaponry or from lobbying for more lenient export regulations. We interfere during arms trade fairs, conferences, in the offices of arms lobby groups and other events related to the arms lobby.
Responsibilities of governments and control mechanisms disappear along with weapons over national borders.
Europe is one of the biggest arms traders in the world. Six European companies, BAE Systems, EADS, Cassidian, Finmeccanica, Thales and Rolls Royce are ranked in the 2013 top fifteen biggest arms companies in the world. In 2012 the European arms industry had a turnover of 96 billion euros. Almost 40 billion of this was destined for export. In 2012 the European countries issued 47,868 arms export licences. Only 459 were refused. In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, the value of the European export licences to the Arab region was 9 billion euros, double that of 2007.
‘A secure Europe in a better world’ is the title of the European security strategy approved by the European Council in December 2003. This document acknowledges that Europe is not separate from the rest of the world and that internal and external security are inextricably linked. It also states that economic relationships can be a source of (violent) conflict and that trade policy can therefore be a powerful instrument for conflict prevention. Conflict prevention, moreover, ‘cannot start too early' and ‘conflicts need political solutions'. These elements could just as easily have come from a text by Vredesactie. Unfortunately practice does not tally with this rhetoric.
In recent years the EU has stimulated the expansion of a European defence industry, an industry which depends on expanding arms trade to conflict regions for profitability. In 2012 forty percent of the European arms trade turnover was destined for export. European weapons turn up all over the world in conflicts and human rights violations. Of the fifty-one regimes labelled ‘authoritarian’ by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2012 forty-three were able to buy weapons in the European Union. This shows that lax European arms export policy can function as a catalyst for conflicts worldwide.
Arms export control is under national authority. It is the national governments which refuse or grant arms export licences, in accordance with their own procedures. In Belgium arms export control is largely left to the individual regions. However, on 8 December 2008 the Common European Position on Arms Exports was approved by the European Council. This harmonizing framework is definitive for the policy of the European Member States and regions and is in fact primarily an exercise in settling for the lowest common denominator.
As in the national arms export policy, there is a serious contradiction in following the lowest common denominator. On the one hand eight criteria are listed for restricting arms exports. On the other hand the aim is a strong arms industry, for which (increased) arms export is of crucial importance.
According to the common position, the restricting criteria must always take priority over the commercial interests of the arms industry. In practice, however, this is not the case. In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, the value of the European export licences to the Arab region was 9 billion euros, double that of 2007. Almost forty percent of Belgian arms exports are directly intended for Arab countries. Almost half of all European firearms and ammunition exported to the Middle East comes from Belgium, according to Flemish newspaper De Standaard in 2013. Saudi Arabia buys so many light weapons from Belgium that ‘Saudi soldiers would need five arms each to carry them all’.
The Walloon government granting a licence for the sale of FN Herstal weapons destined for Gaddafi’s elite troops is a telling example of the way in which commercial interests weigh more heavily than ethical criteria. After various negative recommendations, and even the suspension of a previously granted licence by the Walloon Conseil d’État, in 2010 the Walloon Minister-President Rudy Demotte approved the supply of arms. Although the conflict in Libya had not yet reached its full intensity, human rights violations and the country’s undemocratic policy were well known.
The report‘Vlaamse buitenlandse wapenhandel 2013' (‘Flemish foreign arms trade 2013’), by the Flemish Peace Institute reaches hard conclusions regarding the Flemish arms trade decree to execute the European directive on the arms trade. Around half of previously awarded licences for arms exports have disappeared from the radar. These are for products which are not on the European control list, but which have a military end use. Part of our known arms exports go to other EU countries. On the basis of European legislation, Flanders allows large numbers of ‘general licences’. This means that these transactions for arms within the EU can be conducted without advance proceedings with certified customers. It is only required that this be reported retrospectively, so that parliamentary control is not possible until long after the fact. ‘We only have a partial picture of the transfer of products within the EU,’according to Tomas Baum of the Flemish Peace Institute. There is control in advance of export of arms from Flanders to countries outside the EU, but for this part of the export the end user of the weapons is only known in half of the cases.
In sum, our legislation on arms exports is as leaky as a sieve. Responsibilities of local governments and control mechanisms disappear along with weapons over national borders.
When arms manufacturers develop new (subsidised) arms technology, they want to earn money with it. They do everything in their power to persuade customers worldwide to buy those new weapons, not caring whether the weapons meet the requirements of a real security threat. If necessary a marketing campaign can ensure that they do. Sometimes it is unclear whether policy decisions follow from military or economic reasoning. Often no attempt is made to conceal the economic reasoning.
Imagine, however, that the EU, as stated in its security strategy, were to use its trade policy as a powerful instrument of conflict prevention. In that case 45,900 arms export licences would be refused, not 459. The defence industry would lose forty percent of its income. No money would be earned from weapons anymore. The pressure from arms dealers on our security policy would wither away.
What if European weapons could no longer be found in Libya, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Mexico, Mali, Nepal?
Let’s make a start: Istopthearmstrade.eu
Arms export is a lucrative business and is essential for the profitability of the European defence industry.
Nobody could fail to notice: over the last months we have been constantly faced with the horror of war and violence. Everybody's calling out to “do something”. Vredesactie and Agir pour la Paix are calling on you to take action.
Our European arms trade has helped to create uncontrollable monsters. European arms emerge in wars and human rights abuses worldwide. Of the fifty one regimes labelled as ‘authoritarian’ by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2012, forty three could buy their arms in the European Union. It demonstrates that a lax European arms export policy can function as a catalyst for conflicts worldwide. There's a very good way to 'do something': let's stop the arms trade!
The horror in proper figures:
Five European companies rank in the top fifteen largest arms companies worldwide. BAE Systems, EADS, Finmeccanica, Thales and Safran. In 2012 the European arms industry had an annual turnover of 96 billion euros; of which almost 40 billion was intended for export. Arms export is a lucrative business and is essential for the profitability of the European defence industry. In 2012 European countries issued 47,868 arms export permits and only 459 were refused. These figures give an indication of the minimum export; we suspect that the actual extent is even greater. In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, European export permits to the Arab region amounted to nine billion euros, twice as much as in 2007.
Saudi Arabia is by far the most important client. Over a period of five years European member states delivered more than ten billion euros worth of arms to the Saudis. Even though the country is a well-known and important supplier to Jihadist terrorist networks in the region. A lot of the arms Saudi Arabia intended for the Syrian opposition fell into the hands of groups like the Islamic State (IS). This proves once again that a lax European arms export policy can be a catalyst for conflicts worldwide.
Lack of legislation
The European Union is described as a civil project in which the wish for peace is a central motive. But this picture is less and less in accordance with reality. Europe is one of the world's biggest exporters of arms and some of the largest defence companies are established in Europe. Free trade between the different EU countries includes free trade in arms. Arms companies can transport their merchandise freely from one EU country to the other. Moreover, the EU has no enforceable criteria for arms export to countries outside the EU. As a result European arms companies can export worldwide through the European country with the least stringent export rules. One of the great successes accounted for by the lobbyists for the arms industries.
Principles versus economy
In 2008, all EU member states approved the Common European Position on Arms Exports. It was agreed that national governments would take eight criteria into consideration during the issuing of arms export permits. For example, they have to consider potential human rights abuses, the possible fueling of conflicts and the danger that arms would fall into the wrong hands. However, these normative criteria are extremely elastic and unenforceable by a court. Furthermore, the same policy document expressly contains the strengthening of the European arms industry. Principles of freedom and democracy are very easily swept under the carpet by member states when these have the potential to negatively affect the competiveness of their own arms companies.
This attempt at European harmonisation therefore is only ‘soft law’ and is in sharp contrast to the solidly anchored liberalisation of the defence market. After the 1990's waves of mergers in the United States we also saw an expansion and increase of scale in the European defence sector. Internal export controls were increasingly seen as obstacles to the development and trade in weapon systems. The European Union wanted to further liberalise the internal defence market and simplify cooperation across borders. The export controls were therefore drastically weakened rather than strengthened with a European Directive in 2009. When it comes to intra-European trade, defence companies no longer have to apply for separate permits. They only have to self-register their export to make a potential retroactive inspection possible. But only the immediate recipients are included in these registers. Information about the end-users cannot be found there. Authorities therefore lose track of where the military equipment produced in their territory goes.
The mesh is bigger than the net.
Since there is hardly any common policy for European arms export, the door is open to avoidance manoeuvres through the member state with the least stringent rules. National export rules can simply be bypassed through flexible transit possibilities via member states with laxer legislation. So it's not surprising that weapon systems manufactured in Europe surface in clandestine networks and dubious regimes.
In Flanders for example, it is not know who the end-user is for approximately two-thirds of the arms exported. The last known users are mostly foreign companies in another EU member state. Furthermore, an unknown quantity of Flemish technology has a military end-use but no obligation to have a permit because it concerns ‘dual use’ applications. As a result, military products which possibly have a civil application, disappear completely of the radar.
The arms lobby: at home in the European institutions
The initial European peace project is overshadowed by the expansion of an undemocratic military-industrial complex. The unification of the European arms market came into effect through the insistence of a few powerful companies, in the hope of crowding the smaller players out of the market. While drafting the European Directive to achieve this, the Commission consulted with representatives of arms companies such as EADS, BAE Systems, Thales and Finmeccanica. The European umbrella organization of the defence industry (ASD) played an active role in the process and even in amending the Directive.
In the backrooms in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe, policymakers, arms dealers and lobbyists meet behind closed doors. Though there is no unified vision of a European foreign and security policy, powerful voices that insist on the necessity of a strong and competitive arms industry are having their say in the corridors of the European institutions. Through revolving door politics, advisory groups and lobbying, arms dealers have preferential access to the European decision making process. In this way they make sure their business interests are being taken into account. "What's good for business is good for everybody" is the argumentation. But if there's one sector to which this does not apply, it is most surely the arms industry.
With both regional and European policymakers, there is no political will to strengthen the criteria for arms trade and to make them enforceable in court. But if Europe wants to have any credibility as a peace project, it must urgently start working to remedy this.