Thursday, March 27, 2014

Arrested for confronting arms-dealers

I spent seven hours today in a police station cell. Why? Because I tried to disrupt a feast of flesh-pressing between weapons dealers and top political figures.

As the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) was about to begin in Brussels this morning, two peace activists poured buckets of fake blood outside the venue's entrance. Disguised as corporate lobbyists, I and a few others then sat down in the dark red puddle. We were promptly arrested.

The purpose of the action was to make the invitation-only attendees walk through "blood". This was entirely appropriate: the arms industry thrives on wars in which innocent people are killed as a matter of routine.

We may not have caused too big a headache for the event's organisers. But we certainly drew attention to how the EDA, an official European Union institution, is trying to confer respectability on an industry that deserves to be reviled.


Stripped of their jargon, the speeches delivered at the conference had a sinister edge. Bernhard Gerwert, chief executive of Airbus Defence and Space, called for the EU to help finance the killing machines of the future through its scientific research activities. "Research and development is only worthwhile if we have the ambition to build the next generation of products," he said.

It was particularly grotesque that Dimitris Avramopoulo, the Greek defence minister, gave a keynote address. Until recently, Greece spent more on its military than any other EU country as a proportion of national income. One largely-overlooked contributor to the Greek economic crisis is that it had been splurging on weapons from Germany and the US.

The unemployed, patients waiting for vital treatment and the homeless had nothing to do with this profligacy. Perversely, though, they are paying the price for it through reduced access to social services.

Avramopoulo did not confess today that the level of Greek military expenditure has been irresponsible. Rather, he charmed his hosts by urging that the EDA be granted more power.


Considering that the agency has been explicitly tasked by the EU's governments to push for increased spending on warfare, his plea can only be interpreted as a desire to keep repeating the same foolish policies over and over again.

An important caveat is that these policies do not appear foolish to the establishment. If you are an arms dealer, it makes perfect sense to argue for more public support.

More than likely, it's coincidental that the EDA held its yearly get-together one day after Barack Obama visited Brussels. Still, it's fitting that the two events came so close together. The agency is fixated on building a European equivalent -- or rival -- to America's drones programme.

I'm sure that the EDA's guests were too polite to acknowledge that Obama has used this programme to flout the law. Under his presidency, the right to due process has been discarded. If Obama wants someone dead, all he has to do is put their name on a list.

In fact, I'd doubt that the word "drone" was used much, if at all, during today's proceedings. The EDA's newly-published annual report refers to these monstrous warplanes as "remotely piloted aircraft systems" (RPAS).

Readers of this turgid document are told that drones (sorry, I mean, RPAS) have "proven their value in the military sphere in recent operations." Drones have proven so effective in bombing wedding parties in Yemen that the agency now wants them to be flown in civilian airspace.

From previous experience, I know that the food tends to be excellent at the EDA annual conference (once upon I time, I was allowed to attend such events).

Sadly, I wasn't able to sample whatever delicacies were on offer this time around. I had to make do with cheese sandwiches, waffles and water, passed through the bars of a police station cell.

But given that the EDA's activities are so nauseating, it's probably just as well my stomach didn't have to deal with anything more substantial.

•First published by EUObserver, 27 March 2014.

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