War Waste Workings


(got to write this quick, dodgy connection. sorry for mistakes)

I really, really, really care about this stuff on all sorts of levels. Please read on if you’ve got five minutes. I’ve tried quite hard to make a slightly complex story simpler (though I’m a bit rusty at writing)

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re in the shit financially. The government has never been so in debt. we’re in real danger of losing our national credit rating, and money for hospitals, schools, police, roads etc will be cut, regardless of who wins the next election.

So, you might be surprised to learn that we spend hundreds of millions a year subsidising arms deals to dodgy countries. read on while i fill you in for a bit. Cos at the end I’m going to ask you to take a look at a really important petition to see if you want to sign it..

The story begins..

Said arms deals, like all the best scams, take place not in shady car parks at midnight with manilla envelopes, but in full plain sight of the nation. they tie in torture, women’s repression, oil, moolah, UK servicemen’s lives and a lot of tax money – flowing OUT of the coffers.

From an economic point of view, it’s all supposed to be about exports – selling goods and services to foreigners. They’re what build wealth in the long term, not shuttling money round and round this little island. Think about it like this: if I paint a picture and flog it to a mate, perhaps in exchange for a CD, that’s one thing. But we’re really just swapping stuff. On the other hand, if a stranger wants the painting I can take the cash and use it to buy some more paint cheap to do another painting etc. This is because of things like comparative advantage that you can read about later.

The point is that governments are (perhaps rightly) obsessed with having a ‘trade surplus’ – from the perspective of the Bank of England, our real national ‘profit’ each year is simply what we earn in exports minus what we spend on importing stuff. All those pounds shuffled about inside the UK each year don’t really matter.

The Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) exists to promote British industry’s exports. If a UK company does a certain deal with an overseas company or government, and the foreigners feel like not paying, the UK taxpayer picks up the tab. The idea behind the system is to promote our export sales to other contries by making it less risky to do business with dodgy clients.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that government subsidies to exports (which these amount to) are illegal under international trade laws, and give our economic competitors a big shitty stick to beat us with in trade negotiations at the EU, WTO and G20, the logic behind taxpayer funding of the ECGD unravels as soon as you look at it. which is presumably why they gave it such a boring name (since ‘The Bribing Foreigners With Public Cash Department’ is a bit nearer the mark but less politically acceptable).

For starters, the arms industry has sucked in 30-60% of the ECGD’s funding over the last few decades, even though arms account for less than 4% of all our exports. Eh? So the other 96% of our exports (tractors, pharmaceuticals, Amy Winehouse) sell themselves just fine? Hmm… And exactly just who would need the services of the ECGD, should they be unable to pay for a brand-new tank, assault helicopter or aerial spy drone? Unstable dictatorships? Repressive regimes? You guessed it.

Secondly, the economic logic behind supporting the arms industry is a bit flawed. Jobs created in these contracts are already subsidised by us to the tune of £10,000 minimum each job, each year. And the profits these companies make (£16,000,000,000 operating profit for BAE in 2008 alone) *don’t* end up in the taxman’s coffers, but safely overseas in shareholders’ and managers’ tax havens. That new school round the corner? That new bridge? That MRI scanner? And yes, that soldier’s flak jacket? All were paid for by taxes collected on wages of call-centre workers, teachers, builders etc.

Of course, the minister signing off the deal usually gets a say on where those subsidised jobs go. You won’t be suprised to realise that they typically end up in a hotly-contested constituency. If you’re thinking of a comparison with the 18th-century ‘Pocket Borough’ episode of Blackadder, where he buys a parliament seat, well, so am I.

Along the way, some of you might have moral or ethical problems with selling weapons abroad to places like: Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, especially to women; or Sri Lanka, who have just concluded a decade-long internal war against the Tamil ethinic minority through the simple tactic of shelling their refugee camps; Indonesia, whose General Suharto decided (in the name of internal order) to wipe out a bigger proportion of his own subjects than either Hitler, Mao or Stalin; or the Sudan, whose own internal persecutions hit the headlines every spring when refugees spill over into drought-struck and war-torn Somalia, precipitating famine. So you can also blame the ECGD for Bono.

But, lastly, the military / strategic arguments against these sales are compelling. The point behind advanced military technology is that it gives you an advantage. Ideally, it should render all previous weapons obsolete, giving you and your allies a decisive advantage / deterrent. So it’s distinctly odd that we should be selling weapons at all to the list of nasties listed above.

But they’re good (if desperate) customers. We probably shouldn’t serve them, but we think we know that, if we don’t someone else will (if you’ve ever worked with the ‘regulars’ in a pub, you know what i mean). The government’s Export Credit Guarantee Department, however, go above and beyond the call of duty for Britain. Not even the americans or the French (notoriously keen on government subsidy of industry) go so far as to run an ECGD of their own. So, to continue the drunkard analogy, the winos aren’t just queueing up to get in at 10am, but getting free bar snacks and 2-4-1 deals on strongbow and jagerbombs as well.

Subsidies are bad. But we’ve even gone one better with a big fat bribe.

Incredibly, *our* money was used to bribe the Saudis into buying a consignment of brand-new, state-of-the-art Eurofighter jets. You see, they were shopping around and looking at rival US models, and offering to pay in some badly-needed crude oil, so we beat everyone else to the punch by offering £20,000,000 in inducements to the canny Saudi princes in inducements and freebies. Because they’re worth it.

Unfortunately for BAE, two Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigations (in 1992 and 2006) threatened to call a bloody spade a spade, and order the deals called off and bribes repaid. Luckily, the Tory and Labour governments of the day ordered the SFO to stop sniffing around when the Saudis threatened not to stump up the oil.

Why do we, the taxpayers, pay for private companies to sell off military advantages to grisly gangs at a loss?

Money and blood.

Firstly, many senior members of government have shares in these companies, and have hustled from government to the boardrooms of these companies with indecent haste (former Defence Minister Nicholas ‘Fatty’ Soames being just the most colourful example.) But that’s only half the story.

The military reality is that, in a world where the business of killing has grown ever more complicated even as arms development and production has been increasingly privatised, the services of private companies have never been more vital. Forget all about not being able to lob Trident nuclear missiles around without the americans’ say-so; just keeping a Lynx helicopter airborne requires the participation of over 100 private corporations. The government needs these companies more than they need us. Perhaps if the industry in question was agriculture, or power generation, or computing, it might be possible to argue that the circle was a virtuous one, no matter how extreme the trade distortions and income inequalities it generated were. But remember that the final products of the arms industry are misery, death and despair.

Next time you get paid, look at that P.A.Y.E. knocked off your total hours, and think about that. remember, every pound spent like this isn’t being spent on schoolbooks, or electricity for hospitals, or subsidising the night bus.

Yesterday it was announced that yet another SFO fraud investigation into the Saudi, and other BAE deals (including Quatar and Tanzania) has been headed off at the pass – this time with BAE making a token $280m settlement out of court in the UK ans US. This is *very* small change out of their $2000m profit on $15,000m revenue this year.

There is a petition online. I hope you can find a couple more minutes to read it, and sign if you see fit:

thanks for your time,
lonely joe parker

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