Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Arms lobby licks its lips over climate change

Arms dealers do not only manufacture instruments of death. They are adept, too, at manufacturing a political consensus.

Because there is a plethora of think-tanks and policy institutes in Brussels, it can be extremely difficult to gauge how effective some of them are. But one that has certainly made an impact in its eight-year-history is Security and Defence Agenda (SDA), a forum sponsored by Europe’s top weapons-makers, including BAE (yes, the same BAE that recently paid fines worth £287 million to avoid being prosecuted on corruption charges in both Britain and the US). Giles Merritt, the SDA’s director, was named by The Financial Times last year as one of the 30 most influential people in Brussels.

Each month the SDA hosts a pow-wow in Biblothèque Solvay, an elegant early twentieth century library that offers a welcome reprieve from the more bombastic architecture of the nearby EU institutions. It is here that senior diplomats, politicians and military strategists explore how policy can be adapted to serve the interests of the arms industry.

Perhaps the only thing to admire about this group is that it is fiendishly clever. Merritt, a former lobbyist for the comparably unscrupulous tobacco industry, has advised his clients to “stop making macho ads with missiles and fighter planes” and present a more caring image.

His counsel has been heeded up to a point. Over the past few years the defence establishment has emphasised that it is deeply concerned about climate change. The problem is that it is concerned for all the wrong reasons.

With global warming expected to increase competition between nations over energy sources, the arms industry and its political stooges have realised that there are contracts to be won from turning an environmental question into a security issue. This was clear from a meeting that the SDA held in 2009, during which a NATO representative described the Arctic as brimming with “riches and potential” and warned of a “scramble” for resources and territory among the countries in the region (the US, Russia, Canada and all of Scandinavia).

His statement is likely to be given a more official imprimatur when the leaders of NATO countries gather in Lisbon this November. There they will update the ‘strategic concept’ that guides the alliance’s activities by incorporating climate and energy issues within it. The European Union has been ahead of NATO in this regard. In 2008, the EU’s then foreign policy chief Javier Solana – a former NATO secretary-general - published a paper noting that new trading routes were opening up in the Arctic as a result of the polar icecaps’ melting and hinting that it would only be a matter of time before there were clashes over which countries controlled different parts of the region. Faced with such belligerent posturing from Brussels, is it any wonder that Russia – clearly the main nation to whom these messages were addressed – has recently identified NATO as a serious threat?

The arms industry has everything to gain from talking up the prospect of resource wars. New data from the – an outfit set up at the request of BAE and its French and German counterparts - shows that while the collective defence expenditure of its 26 participating states has been fairly constant at €200 billion (£174 billion) for the past few years, it has fallen in proportional terms from nearly 1.8% of gross domestic product in 2006 to 1.6% in 2008. If the involvement of many European countries in Afghanistan doesn’t lead to greater spending, then it’s only logical that weapons merchants will pray for more lucrative conflicts. And if things turn out the way they predict, they could be one of the few beneficiaries from ecological catastrophes.

I’m not trying to suggest that there aren’t security implications from climate change. But allowing the arms industry to shape the debate increases the possibility that our politicians will be distracted from taking action to address its root causes. Solar and wind power, insulation of buildings, better public transport and saner methods of food production are what we should be prioritising if the momentum that was sabotaged by myopic world leaders in Copenhagen a few months ago is to be rebuilt. Pounding the drumbeat of war, however, is the last thing we need right now.

Originally published by The Samosa (www.thesamosa.co.uk)

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