What defence for the arms trade?

A £14bn deal – the largest since devolution – is creating one of the world’s biggest military training sites in South Wales.
You won’t have seen much opposition to the plan. You won’t even have seen much discussion.
Newspapers have been supportive, as have the unions. Politicians have been tumbling over themselves with excitement.
The reason? Well, the St Athan Defence Training Academy promises to create jobs: 5,000 for the Vale of Glamorgan is the headline figure.
No-one dares criticise job creation, be the creator a dodgy call centre company, a shaky Korean technology firm or the arms industry.
But finally, led by people like Cardiff University’s Stuart Tannock, a debate is brewing about just how good this facility is for Wales.
In a recent paper he said that, with St Athan, Wales jumps from being “one of the least militarised nations” to the “forefront of global militarist presence”.
He quotes one of the project’s senior executives: “Our aim is that by 2013 if you travelled anywhere in the world and talked about military training, people would say that St Athan was the only place to go…People will come from Australia, the Middle East and other parts of the world to train…The academy will captivate the world.”
I’m not that excited. We already have enough killing to “captivate” us, thank you very much.
The Metrix Consortium developing the St Athan base includes Qinetiq, “a world leader in military capability enhancement”; AgustaWestland, creator of the A129 combat helicopter and Apache AH Mk1, which the MoD website helpfully observes fires not only the Hellfire missile but also “high explosive sub-munition”; and Raytheon, a “defence” giant which creates among much else America’s ballistic missile systems.
Tannock points out that where politicians could have insisted future development in Wales lay in investing in technology and education projects, they have instead committed to a “culture and economy based squarely on militarism”.
He also questions how “many high quality new jobs” will actually be created for locals.
It’s not exactly clear in anything I’ve read on the project.
But then the arms industry is rarely what it says on the tin – or, indeed, the shell-casing.
Enemies have – or don’t have – ‘weapons of mass destruction’; ‘we’ have ‘defensive’ and ‘precision’ weapons.
Manufacturers have yet to market the ‘Child-Killer’ cluster bomb – “Whole schoolyards cleared in seconds” – or the ‘Limb-Remover’ landmine – “A huge jump forward in guerrilla warfare”.
Four years ago I reported on opposition to the massive MRO Europe business fair which was bringing major arms manufacturers to Cardiff.
“The aviation and aerospace industry plays a major role in the Welsh economy,” an assembly spokesman told me then. “In this context, we are pleased to bring MRO to Wales.”
That’s the only context in which we have this discussion.
It is as if wings flapping at centres like St Athan have no effect on communities beyond our vision.

::Leftfield column, Morning Star, July 23, 2007

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