Friday, 1 June 2007

Arms trade developments

There have been two recent developments in the arms trade that will be of interest. The first is a stunning piece of good news. The publishing giant Reed Elsevier has recently received a huge amount of scathing criticism in relation to its continued participation in the arms trade.

But the tide has turned: In a communication released today from Sir Crispin Davis, Reed-Elsevier CEO, has announced Reed Elsevier’s withdrawal from the defence industry (sic). Here is the relevant paragraph:

Over the last year or so it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors, particularly in the science and medical markets, have very real concerns with our involvement in this sector. They believe strongly that our presence here is incompatible with the aims of the science and medical communities. I am also very aware this is a view shared by a number of our employees. We have listened closely to these concerns and we have concluded that the long term interests of Reed Elsevier as a leading publisher of science, medical, legal and business content would be best served by withdrawing from defence exhibitions. We intend to complete the withdrawal during the second half of 2007.

Brilliant news! The final sentence suggests that Reed will continue with its organisation of this year’s DSEi arms fair in London, but nonetheless this is a significant and very welcome development.

The second development was the recent appearance of an article on the BBC website discussing Tony Blair’s current visit to South Africa. Apparently the last time Blair was in South Africa was in 1999, when he visited twice. The article suggests that the primary reason for those two visits was to help “a leading British arms supplier” (BAe Systems) to win a multi-million dollar arms contract; a contract that was signed that same year.

This contract has since become mired in controversy – with allegations of corruption at very high levels. Indeed the article states that “it has been reported that the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has asked its South African counterpart, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), to help it track down more than $139m in "commissions", allegedly paid by BAE to eight South African businesses and a political adviser.”

Now as you are probably aware the Serious Fraud Office has had quite a lot to do with BAe Systems recently – primarily focussing on a massive contract that the Saudi government signed with them.

Quite apart from the fact that it produces weapons designed to murder human beings, BAe Systems is once again exposed as being utterly corrupt. As for the prime minister the BBC has this to say: “While there is no suggestion that the prime minister knew of or participated in any wrongdoing, his role in supporting the BAE bid has never been fully explained.”

Let me be the first to make the suggestion! There is no possible way that the prime minister could have supported this bid and been ignorant of BAe’s standard mode of operation. Corruption at BAe is a matter of historical record. The payment of “commissions” has been standard practice for as long as BAe Systems has been in existence. Once again the mainstream press are letting Blair off far too lightly. Once again he has blood on his hands.

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