The great arms bazaar

The great arms bazaar

Western hypocrisy

Buy one, get one free! It’s the biggest show on earth, the biggest sales event this side of armageddon. It’s the largest arms fair in the world, and it recently took place in London. Countless ways to maim and kill were on show with various sophisticated weaponries designed to pierce, explode and annihilate.

The three day event took place in one of the world’s richest cities and in what could have been just another exhibition centre exhibiting garden furniture, children’s toys or some other benign consumer good. But, this time, despite the veneer of respectability, a sordid, blood splattered industry was plying its wares.

As with any other exhibition, all manner of brand spanking new objects were laid out in full splendour. If you ever needed reminding, whether it comes to Libya, Afghanistan, Columbia or Pakistan, death can arrive in many forms and can begin its journey in the most unexpected places -- in this case, inside the ExCel Centre in London.

Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Israel and many other repressive, arms-hungry regimes were present. The UK’s arms giant BAe Systems was there to make a killing,  to make killing a highly profitable venture for its British taxpayer heavily subsidised shareholders. US companies Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics were present too.

If you are into mass slaughter, repression and war, and plenty are, East London and the innocuously named Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition was the place to be. Capitalism’s naked greed and profiteering were there for all to see. Morality? Forget it. On the day that British prime minister David Cameron was in Libya celebrating another hollow victory for imperialism and the beginnings of the western colonisation of Nato’s new protectorate, many of his arms dealing cronies in London were reaping the rewards of his and others’ militaristic policies.

I recall Cameron in Egypt, not too long ago, mouthing facile platitudes about democracy and human rights as the Mubarak regime fell, before moving on with his arms dealers in tow to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia -- those bastions of democracy and human rights, who were incidentally invited by the British government to attend the London arms fair.

What timing though. As the London fair was in full flow, Cameron and his French counterpart Sarkozy wallowed in the limelight in Libya on the political platform of ‘protecting’ Libyans from Gadhafi.

Arrogance and hypocrisy
What sheer arrogance! What sheer hypocrisy! 30,000 now lie dead in Libya, countless others are maimed and much of the country’s physical and social infrastructure is in ruins as a result of British-French military rockets and bombs and support for rebel forces who had been backed both during and prior to the intervention by the CIA and British and French secret services. The British government, in collusion with the profiteering arms manufacturers, has done its best to help destroy and set the wheels in motion for the rape of Libya.

Some 1,000 arms manufacturers were displaying their wares in London, and over 40 countries were represented. The Economist Intelligence Unit (part of the Economist Group) stated that 14 of those countries were authoritarian regimes. Five countries, according to the British government itself, were countries with ‘the most serious human rights concerns.’ But who cares when there is a fast buck to be made? Certainly not the British government, which partly funded the event through its arms promotions organisation.

 Despite apparent concerns over repression and human rights abuses and despite soothing official statements about the stringent conditions for issuing sales licences for arms, the British government has few qualms about selling to Algeria, Israel, Bahrain, Libya, Iraq, Saudi, Pakistan and the UAE, some of which constitute the government’s ‘arms export priority markets.’

While Cameron, Sarkozy and British foreign secretary William Hague stand in front of TV cameras and make warm sounding speeches about humanitarianism and the precious nature of human life, they and their arms dealing buddies are all willing to play fast and loose with the lives of millions of people.

You don’t have to go to the London arms fair to appreciate the fact that the arms industry and its political backers don’t really care to whom it sells to and for what purpose the wares are used. Some time back, Wikileaks provided insight into the global arms shopping list, much of which centred on West Asia and much of which was sold to regimes which subsequently used the military hardware during the ‘Arab Spring’ to suppress and kill their own people, or, in Israel’s care, folks in Gaza.

If the arms industry ever went into a mild panic when the Cold War finished, there was never any need. The first gulf war and then the confict in the former Yugoslavia meant that markets were not about to dry up anytime soon. And now, despite the economic downturn and major defence cutbacks in the US and Europe, markets such as West Asia, Africa and India, the world’s largest arms importer, are on hand to keep the pot boiling.

With politicians stuffed in back pocket and tensions being stoked in various locations across the globe, regional arms races seem likely to keep the arms trade in profit for a long time to come.