Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas (war isn't over)

This morning I took part in some direct action against Europe's support for the arms industry.

Wearing a royal blue tie with images of machine guns, tanks and warplanes in bright yellow, I pretended to be a weapons dealer. Money rained down on me -- thrown by a man in a José Manuel Barroso mask. Two guys braver and more agile than me climbed flagpoles outside the European Commission's enterprise department to hoist a banner, thanking the officials inside for aiding the makers of drones.

It was deliberately farcical but it emphasised a very serious point. During their summit in Brussels today, EU leaders are discussing how to increase corporate welfare for the merchants of death, while social welfare payments are being slashed in many countries.

The reason why our protest took place outside the enterprise department is that it has overseen the expenditure of €1.4 billion on a "security research" programme between 2007 and 2013. This programme has involved examining how drones can be used for such purposes as maritime surveillance -- a euphemism for blocking asylum-seekers from reaching Europe's shores. Some of the world's biggest weapons companies have benefited directly from these subsidies.

Nothing to worry about?

The powerful tell us that there is nothing to worry about here. Philip Hammond, Britain's defence secretary, has written an opinion piece for The Guardian claiming that drones -- or "remotely piloted air systems" as he prefers to call them -- save more lives than they end.

Hammond enthused about Watchkeeper drones that the British Army wants to deploy in Afghanistan soon. Yet he neglected to mention a salient fact: the Watchkeeper was largely developed by the Israeli company Elbit.

As a new study by the campaign group War on Want explains, the Watchkeeper system is based on Elbit's Hermes 450, a drone that the Israeli military has used to attack civilians in Gaza. To say the least, it is baffling that Hammond would boast of the British Army's intention to avail of this technology, when it is has facilitated crimes against humanity.

Moral void

Or maybe it isn't baffling. Both arms dealers and senior politicians operate in a moral void. They are happy to overlook the human rights abuses which they abet, provided that they can gain a "healthy slice" of the world's weapons market, to quote Hammond's predecessor, Liam Fox.

The police did not seem too perturbed by our direct action this morning (at least, not by the time I had left for another appointment). Fourteen others were arrested, however, in a related protest, which involved blocking the entrance to the European Defence Agency's headquarters.

It is deeply ironic that these protesters were apprehended, when it is the EDA itself that is trying to upend the law.

Rules pertaining to aviation forbid the flying of warplanes in civilian airspace. With the full approval of the Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the EDA is seeking to overturn that ban so that drones can be flown alongside passenger jets.

The EDA, too, has been less than frank about what it is up to. Earlier this year, it held an experiment on flying drones in Spain. A "fact-sheet" that it prepared stated that the drone tested out then was a Heron. The agency failed to spell out that the Heron is manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries. Like the Hermes, it has dropped bombs on children in Gaza.

Good people throughout the world mark the festive season by taking care of those less fortunate than themselves. The European Union's leaders, by contrast, are plotting ways of boosting an industry that thrives on destruction.

Merry Christmas. War isn't over.

•First published by EUobserver, 19 December 2013.

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