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Theme Group 2: Exposing the bad guys

Many governments say they have tough export controls, but, in reality, government support for export promotion and military companies is always the priority. For example, UK Prime Minister David Cameron led a delegation of eight arms companies to Egypt in February 2011 at about the same time as an arms embargo was being imposed on neighbouring Libya, itself a UK government "priority market" for arms sales until just a few weeks previously. Many governments have arms export promotion agencies to oversee such Government support. The UK's was set up in 1966. but others are much newer. for instance, Sweden's began its deadly work in August 2010. Other countries have different arrangements. While Norway does not have an export agency as such, a post, the Defence Industrial Counsellor, at the Norwegian embassy in Washington, has been set up with financial backing from Norwegian arms companies to help them sell to the Pentagon.

In some countries, support comes from export credit agencies (ECAs) which give the official insurance that enable the arms deals to take place without the risk that the companies may not be paid. Four warships, worth more than ten years of development aid, are being built for the Indonesian navy with a financial guarantee for the Dutch ECA, Atradius. An armaments package with South Africa which was the subject of corruption allegations from the start was backed by ECAs from France, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

Arms companies are also supported by banks and pension funds. ECA support is often indirect, going to the bank that backed the deal, and arms companies, of course, also use banks in many other ways. Pension funds play their part as well, being major shareholders in arms companies. This means that, while many arms companies do not produce goods that individuals would buy, there are possibilities for consumer action.

The arms companies have factories and other buildings, many have annual general meetings and a public presence in other ways. Even without direct consumer pressure, these companies will still want to be seen as "good". We can expose their activities, shame them and break the link between them and the governments which support them.

Emerging trends

We would like participants to come prepared to share information about the kinds of help with export promotion their Governments give the arms companies, about export credits for military goods, other subsidies, and the role o
f banks and pension funds in supporting military industry in their countries. This information would be used to help us answer questions such as:

  • are more governments actively promoting arms exports and setting up bodies to do this?
  • is other manufacturing being hit by the recession or competition from China? Does this mean that people are more desperate than ever to keep whatever jobs currently exist?
  • is there a general skills shortage in engineering or is this just in some countries? Does the use of skilled workers by the arms industry cause problems for tackling climate change?
  • what are the implications for the emergence of India, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates as major arms producers and / or customers?
  • is there greater public awareness about the dangers of promoting arms exports since the "Arab spring"?
  • have the arms companies captured the arms control process?
  • what is their influence on parliaments?

Our discussion will not to the above. This is just to start the thinking.

Campaigning tools
It is likely that most people attending the seminar and the theme group will have a lot of campaigning experience. We will look at the very different types of campaigning including

  • undertaking research including the use of legislation on public access to information;
  • petitioning and talking to politicians calling for an end to export promotion or sales to repressive regimes;
  • using the media (old and new);
  • taking legal action and using other national processes to hold governments and companies to account;
  • consumer campaigns such the Belgian and Spanish bank campaigns;
  • taking action against the arms companies themselves at their annual general meetings or their premises.

and much much more.
Which strategies work? If they work in one country will they work in others?

Internationalising the issue

  • Are there topics on which we could / should combine to campaign?
  • Are bilateral links more helpful than a wider campaign?
  • Is it possible to help each other while still having different national campaigning priorities?
  • These are some of the issues we would like to look at here.