Global Initiative against War Profiteers

Report from the "Globalising Nonviolence" theme group

During WRI International Conference "Globalising Nonviolence" we had a theme group on the topic of war profiteering. Meeting every day of the conference, we were able to go through a process of learning about war profiteers, campaigns against them, and explore how WRI's Global Initiative Against War Profiteers can help groups in this important work.

The aims of this theme group were:

  • Learn from groups working on the topic
  • Make links between the groups already working on war profiteers and groups and individuals who are new to it
  • Identify the role that WRI can play in campaigning against war profiteers at an international level
  • Identify strategies
  • Come with concrete ideas to work in the future

We started by describing war profiteers and analyzing strategic opportunities to stop them. Ann Feltham from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK). Explaining that there are two kinds of arms trade: small arms/light weapons and the major weapons, she focus on the big companies that make the large weapons systems and high tech components. While these products can kill, a lot are never used. Even if the product does is not used, it can give moral support to human rights violators, damages economies and the environment, helps the military myth continue. Such weapons are bought by any government with money.

French activist Tikiri explained military outsourcing - how private companies now profit by providing services that were once done by the military. These fall into three categories:

  • general services such as laundry, catering and transport (provided by companies such as Sodexho and Serco.
  • Technology development, provided by arms manufacturers such as Lockheed-Martin and Northrup Grumman.
  • Private Military companies the provide security guards and mercenaries, draw from elite forces by companies such as Blackwater Security and CACI.

Reconstruction is another newer form of war profiteering. A presentation by Simon Harak from War Resisters League's Stop Merchants of Death Campaign (US) explained how companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton reap huge profits from contracts to "rebuild" Iraq after the bombs of other war profiteers have destroyed it.

Mich Crols from Forum voor Vredesactie, Jan Capelle from Proyecto Gato and Marijn Paperkamp from the Dutch Campaign Against Arms Trade told of their work with private financial institutions and Export Credit Agencies that are involved with arms manufacturers. Banks have shares in the arms industry, or support with loans/credits transactions for arms trade. Export Credit Agencies (ECAs) are publicly backed government or semi-government agencies which give financial guarantees to companies operating abroad, including arms sales.

They are the single largest source of taxpayer support for private sector companies seeking to offload on to the public the financial risks of their business in the South and Eastern Europe.

The presenters all told us how the "revolving door" is a key factor for war profiteers, helping companies reap even larger profits from governments. People who are making the decisions regarding weapons contracts represent strong corporate interest in these deals.

Case studies of campaigns help us understand which are good strategies for working against war profiteers. Several case studies were presented. We heard about Campaign against the Defence Export Services Organisation in the UK which exists to sell arms for companies and to lobby for arms exports within the government. "My Money Clear Conscience" is a Belgian campaign pressuring banks to disinvest in arms producers, with a first step to get them to disinvest from controversial arms producers.

Campaigns against Export Credit Agencies both in the Netherlands and in Belgium. The general aim of these campaigns is to end the financial support for arms exports since this would make the export of large, expensive weapons systems to developing countries almost impossible.

We learned from the Honeywell Project, a nonviolent campaign in the USA against a company that made cluster bombs used against the people of Vietnam.

We learned from these case studies that a successful campaign has to combine clear goals, good research on the companies and an understanding of the situation with a diversity of tactics. It is important to focus on the destructive nature of the weapons and to make visible how corporations carry out their business (e.g insider influencing, bribery, excessive profits made from taxpayers), calling their reputation for being "good corporations" into question. Campaigns need to provide opportunities for people to join organized efforts to eliminate corporate power.

During the theme group we agreed that WRI needs to play a role in coordinating an exchange of information of what various groups are doing, and promote their work to the wider antimilitaristnonviolent network. WRI needs to provide resources such as case studies to help groups develop strategies for nonviolent campaigns. To build a successful initiative against war profiteers, WRI needs to know what your needs are and how we can help you develop your campaigns. If you are doing this work or want to begin to develop efforts to stop war profiteers, please contact us!

Joanne Sheehan and Javier Gárate
co-conveners, war profiteers' theme group