The 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States – are all among the top ten arms exporters in the world. Their position dates – apart from China – to the post-war carve-up between the US and Russia- and the fact that at the time both France and the UK were major imperialist powers. No proposal – however popular with the rest of the world – can survive their vetoes. All five will be present – in some form or another – at the DSEI arms fair.
Wherever you look, “military intervention” and the arms sales that make it possible continue to produce an endless stream of refugees. That’s not even counting the dead, raped and mutilated who don’t manage to escape the violence. Even the mainstream press admits that the thousands of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean are the direct result of the West’s destruction of the Libyan state.
But that’s just part of it.
Four years ago the Arab Spring left many in awe of the determination of people rising up against dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa – including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain and, less noticed, even in Saudi Arabia itself. Now thousands of people are trying to flee across the Mediterranean (and dying in the attempt) to escape the Arab Winter that followed. For years leading up to the “Arab Spring”, arms companies exported equipment to dictatorial regimes.
The UK has exported military equipment to Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. British defence contractors have also sold to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Tear gas canisters made by the US and Israel – routinely used by Israel to repress demonstrations in the West Bank – were used against Tahrir Square occupiers in Egypt. Indeed, evidence of CS gas which may have been made in the UK has been found on footage from attacks by the Syrian security forces.
Of course British military trained the Saudi elite troops who violently crushed the uprising in Bahrain. And it was British “security advisors” who helped rebuild Libya’s secret (and not so secret) police. Within a couple of years the West used the Trojan Horse of a so-called “no flight zone” aimed at “preventing a massacre” in order to actually get rid of the regime, and turned the country into a mess of warring gangs (aka armed militias). It may be a while before Russia again agrees to regime change disguised as a massacre-prevention.
One year governments are honoured guests at DSEI- two years later they can be pariahs. Like Syria. Or Libya. But then, one year Assad’s Syria can be torturing alleged Islamists on the US’s behalf. The next Assad is being put forward as another monster…
Between October 2009 and October 2010 the UK exported military and related products to Ghadaffi’s Libya to the tune of £33,899,335.
True to its history, the US soon rapidly lost any enthusiasm for The Arab Spring and democracy when the Moslem Brotherhood got elected as the Egyptian government, as they had before when Hamas defeated the PLO in Palestine Authority elections. But then they’ve never been that keen on democracy that doesn’t give them what they want. Hence the US-sponsored coups against elected governments in Iran 1953, Greece in 67 and maybe again any day now…
There was also Turkey in 1960, 1971, and 1980 and various coups in Latin America, such as Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964 and of course Chile in 1973.
Increasing collaboration continued with the Egyptian military dictator once he was “elected” President – and increases by the day, applauded by Saudi Arabia and an Israel utterly dedicated to remaining the only “democracy” in the Middle East. Saudi and the other feudalist Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies have worked overtime to turn the struggles for some semblance of freedom into civil wars between Sunnis and Shia across the Middle East and North Africa. This perhaps suits Shia Iran, after the regime there firmly crushed its own Spring.
The UK of course pumps arms into its traditional Sunni allies. The US is still apparently desperately hoping some of them will end up with almost non-existent “secular democratic oppositionists”. Not like the ones they left behind when they left Iraq, which, like the arms depots abandoned by the Iraqi government, the US has conspicuously failed to bomb.
Imperialism – whether it’s the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or indeed ISIS – always triumphs over the corpses of ordinary people. Even when it’s lurching from one screw-up to another!
As a result of the Gulf monarchies’ fevered efforts to provoke a Sunni-Shia sectarian civil war across the Middle East, a new state – the extreme fundamentalist Wahabi ISIS – spread across Syria and Iraq, with a range of assorted Salafists from Nigeria to Afghanistan pledging allegiance. Indeed, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have reportedly been pumping arms – via Turkey – to ISIS. And Turkey has let ISIS volunteers cross its border into Syria – while blocking the Kurds. All three are of course honoured guests at DSEi. Syria – this time – is not.
It’s no accident that ISIS celebrated the announcement of their Caliphate as the end of Sykes-Picot – the Anglo-French carve up of the Middle East with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Like the artificial border “Durand line” dividing the Pushtans of Pakistan and Afghanistan, its result has been endless conflict. The current civil wars in Syria and Iraq, decades of conflict between Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and the central government in these countries, the establishment of the state of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can all be traced back to that era.
NATO leaders lurch from threatening to bomb the crap out of Iran to wondering how they can confront the Salafists without upsetting their Saudi and other Gulf State funders and suppliers. Having massively helped to create Islamist fundamentalism (culminating in its proxy war with Russia in Afghanistan) you’d think the West would have begun to wonder if it shouldn’t leave the rest of the world alone. Some chance!
For arms companies it’s a bonanza! For the civilians caught in the crossfire it’s a nightmare of refugees drowning in their thousands in the Mediterranean as they try to reach the “safety” of racist Fortress Europe.
Somalia is another source of endless refugees. It’s no coincidence that NATO has been “assisting” the African elite’s “African Union” since 2007. “Supporting” the African Union (AU) has meant “assisting” in Somalia since 2007. NATO airlifted thousands of Ugandan troops into and out of the Somali capital of Mogadishu in March 2013 – in support of the African Union Mission there. Uganda and Burundi are still fighting in the civil war in Somalia – the East Africa Standby Brigade.
In May 2014 NATO finally formalised the status of its liaison office to the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa. NATO also considered an AU requested intervention in Mali in Jan 2013 (before outsourcing it to France). NATO continues with AU to identify other possible co-operations with AU’s armed African Standby Force.
The West African Standby Force had the job of “intervening” in Ivory Coast, and contributors to the East Africa Standby Brigade (EASBRIG), Uganda and Burundi, are engaged as combatants in the civil war in Somalia. The UK also contributed to Phase II of the EUTM Somalia mission through the EU’s CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy).
Africa is fast becoming a strategic battleground between world powers, and in particular the US, the European Union, China and Russia, competing among other things for control of oil (eg the oil fields on the Ethiopian/Somali border) and gas fields – along with arms sales! This continues the tradition of proxy wars fought at the cost of 4 million dead in the Congo alone. If the EU really wanted to stop the flow of refugees you’d think they – and their US “partners” – would stop interfering.
As long ago as April 2009 the NATO Strasbourg summit laid out an array of threats, from terrorism and transnational crime to unrests following food crises, extensive migration to the countries of the NATO alliance, and social conflicts as a result of climate change and mass unemployment. Pre-emption and prevention were the buzz words, entailing a “comprehensive approach” of the military, police, politics, and academics, and the further blurring of internal and external security to build up a “global security architecture”. (Outside the summit premises crowds clashed with the French riot police).
The encircling of Russia by the US and its European sometime allies hasn’t slackened since the collapse of “Communism”. Ex-Russian colonies were signed up to NATO with dizzying enthusiasm, starting with Poland. About the only imperialist conflict not pushing desperate migrants to brave the Mediterranean is around the Ukraine and the Baltic states. Whatever you think of Putin, the NATO agenda is definitely not about freedom and justice for the Ukrainians – whether Ukrainian or Russian speaking. The EU didn’t hand £16 billion to the Kiev government out of the goodness of its heart. It was conditional on the kind of economic policies that have made a wasteland out of Greece. It also tied Ukraine to the West in a way that made compromise with Russian-speaking separatists and their Russian state backers even less likely.
Then there was Yugoslavia – where the West prevented the Bosniaks from getting arms while on-off fascist rivals Croatia and Serbia tried to carve up the country. After years of “ethnic cleansing”, rape, massacre and concentration camps, the West waited until the Srebrenica massacre had pretty much finalised the ethnic carve-up before imposing a Protectorate, with neoliberal trimmings. For years it firmly ignored oppression of the Kosovan Albanians before stepping in. Then finally Serbia – once the West realised Milosevic would never become a total neoliberal patsy – and very definitely not before!
Subsequently the West expanded into parts of the former Soviet Union, currently in the Ukraine and Georgia – once again adding captive markets and resources with Ukraine’s Structural Adjustment Programme. Previously the West focused on the “stans” close to the Caspian sea oil and gas fields, conveniently squeezing Russia and neighbouring Afghanistan! In this latter country, the mythical pull-out is simply a game of words – and the endless death toll grows relentlessly.
Forty years of slaughter in which the US and its allies first created Islamic fundamentalism as a violent opposition to the Left – then declared war on it!
Often forgotten in all this is Sri Lanka, where the brutal Civil War and victory for the Sinhalese nationalists resulted in fleeing Tamils arriving in the UK. Unrecorded for the most part, many were deported back to Sri Lanka and the welcoming arms of the Sri Lankan Political Police – who promptly tortured them all over again.
Arms sales to Sri Lanka in 2007, at £7million, added up to the same amount as the aid provided following the devastating tsunami in December 2004 – this in the middle of the final military offensive against Tamil separatists.
The overt political split between Sinhalese and Tamils started as far back as 1919, when the British rulers moved to undermine the rising cross-communal independence movement by reinforcing structures of explicitly communal representation. By 1931, when the Imperial governor decided it was safe to introduce a non-communal system, the Tamils protested loudly, now feeling safer with 50/50 representation than minority status.
The arms trade flourishes, and the resulting flood of victims gives them – and their “security” cousins – an extra bonus. They, the DSEI arms fair that hosts them, and the UK government that throws money at them, share one thing in common. For them the cost in human lives is irrelevant.
It’s not irrelevant to those “fortunate” enough to make it to the London Borough of Newham, where the arms fair takes place. In the midst of their poverty they will have the triumphalism of those who caused their suffering shoved down their throats.
As long the rapes, the killings, the bombings continue – and the refugees keep coming – we will resist this obscenity.