The slave trade/the arms trade: spot the difference

Posted in Corruption, Defence Defense by Deputy city editor on June 14, 2007

Over budget, overdue, useless – the Eurofighter

Tony Blair’s recent “apology” for Britain’s role in the slave trade will, one hopes, be followed in some distant future by another British prime minister apologising for his country’s role in the arms trade. Which is worse – selling slaves from Africa or selling weapons to Africa?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a speech on April 16, 1953

BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world. Other than producing arms it also produces prostitutes for the use of Saudi princes, huge “commissions” for the use of African dictators, massive “consultancies” for those who do it favours, and colossal lies. When it is not behaving corruptly in Africa and the Middle East, it is corrupting politics in Britain.

The symbiotic relationship between BAE Systems and British politicians is part of a tapestry which supports my long-held thesis that Britain is among the most corrupt countries in the world, and unchallenged for hypocrisy.

You probably cannot buy a driving licence in the UK as you can in, say, Albania. But you can buy a seat in parliament. And you can pervert British and international law more or less at will – as demonstrated by the intervention of Blair’s lackey, the attorney general Lord Goldsmith, to derail the biggest of the corruption investigations against BAE.

BAE threatens journalists who try to uncover these corrupt practices although frequently does not have to. There are plenty of idiot hacks around like Jeremy Clarkson who produce thinly-disguised BAE propaganda (Clarkson has written admiringly of the Eurofighter – as did the BBC’s former defence correspondent before he went off to become a flack at NATO).

Fortunately The Guardian and The Sunday Times have not bent to the pressure. The Guardian indeed has been spectacular in its persistence.

All for nothing, it seemed. With the help of the British government, BAE has made away with (so far) a clean pair of heels.

Now here is an ironic development. It is reported in today’s Guardian that the American Justice Department may investigate BAE in connection with hundreds of millions washed through a Washington bank account controlled by the Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador, who used some of the funds to run a private Airbus A340.

Campaign against the Arms Trade – click image for link

What a beautiful thing it would be to see BAE’s executives dragged off in handcuffs to the United States. One can only hope that American justice will be revealed in all its savagery for the knighted plunderers.

Those connected to British politics have also benefitted. Mark Thatcher, half-witted son of the former prime minister, somehow made £12 million in the fall-out from BAE’s contracts with the Saudis. Oddly, he remains at large.

As a sort of defence, it has to be said that BAE makes some truly dreadful weapons. The Eurofighter is the classic example – years late, scores of millions over budget, essentially useless. The Tornado before it was another dire aircraft. I suppose it is arguable that the essential uselessness of the Royal Air Force is a good thing as it inhibits Blair and his regime from even more reckless and destructive military adventures.

Even the SA-80 rifle produced by BAE was a lemon that British special forces still refuse to use. BAE’s weapons may well be more dangerous to those who are equipped with them than to anyone who is a target.

The immorality of selling arms to tyrants and dictators is justified by those who say that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. That’s amazingly exactly the same logic adduced to support the continuation of the slave trade.

Update: According to today’s Guardian Prince Bandar did nothing so undignified as to spend his billion pounds buying his own Airbus. BAE bought it for him. And still pays the running costs.


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