EU defence policy ready for psychiatric treatment
22-03-2017 -

Calls for a more militarised Europe have grown and grown, while the EU Council recently concluded that “Europe must commit additional resources” to defence. But increasing military expenditure is not the way forward.

Calls for a more militarised Europe have grown and grown, while the EU Council recently concluded that “Europe must commit additional resources” to defence. But increasing military expenditure is not the way forward.

This article appeared on Euractiv.

Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. According to this definition our defence policy is ready for psychiatric treatment.

With mounting pressure from the Trump administration to increase military expenditure, defence spending is high on the European agenda.

In November, the Commission proposed measures which would earmark €3.5 billion of the EU budget to the arms industry to develop new military technologies from 2021 onward, with the objective of boosting “the competitiveness of the European arms industry”.

Other measures include wider access to EU funds such as COSME (for SMEs), regional funds and Erasmus +, as well as new funding from the European Investment Bank for military projects.

More military expenditure, however, won’t lead to peace and security. The problem isn’t the lack of weapons, but the lack of political vision for sustainable peace.

Do we really not spend enough on defence already?

A look at the total sum of military spending puts things into perspective. EU member states combined are the second biggest military power in the world. Only the United States spend more on defence.

In 2015 alone, EU countries spent the astronomical sum of €203.14 billion on their armies and weaponry.

By comparison, the Russian military budget is approximately €60 billion a year. Since the end of the Cold War, EU member states have systematically overspent Russia by a factor of more than three to one. If the result is that Europe is still military weaker than Russia, then something has gone terribly wrong with our taxpayers’ money.

Under the NATO framework EU members have regularly reiterated their commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on the military sector. This would mean a drastic increase of €85 billion annually leading to severe budget cuts in other budget lines such as social security and development aid, but won’t make us safer.

But isn’t a European army more efficient? If all 28 countries would join their military budgets that would mean more bang for one’s buck, wouldn’t it?

That’s the big question: which objectives should a common European defence policy serve? What operations would a European army be involved in?

A defence policy is never a goal on itself but is only one of the instruments of a foreign policy. As long as a European foreign policy is lacking, a European defence policy is premature.  The most important distinction between an army and a gang of robbers is that an army is politically controlled.

Giving money to the arms industry, as proposed by the European Commission, without resolving these serious shortcomings will not only be a waste of public money but will also exacerbate instability.

The arms industry is an industry unlike any other but one that profits from selling weaponry worldwide. Such an industry should not receive preferential treatment from the EU.

In the absence of political leadership, what remains is an economic policy. The result is a set of proposals that favours arms companies, including their capacity to export sophisticated weaponry, funded with public money, to non-EU countries.

For decades we have been told that more weapons and military spending would lead to more security and stability. However, none of the major conflicts of the last decades have been solved through military means. The military interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq were disasters which have only made matters worse.

Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, the EU should come up with more innovative and courageous solutions in tackling the root causes of conflicts and drastically increase its support to peaceful ways of resolving them.

Of course, the EU has a critical role to play to confront the major challenges and numerous problems we are being faced with. Climate change, nuclear proliferation and increased inequality are only a few of them.

These problems will not be solved by investing more in weapons. On the contrary, higher military expenditure means less money to tackle these challenges in a sustainable way.

Video lecture: 'The arms trade is disrupting the world'
02-03-2017 -

On February 22nd Andrew Feinstein and Samuel Perlo-Freeman talked about the relation between the arms trade and corruption. You can watch the videos of their lectures (in English) here.

On February 22nd Andrew Feinstein and Samuel Perlo-Freeman talked about the relation between the arms trade and corruption. You can watch the videos of their lectures (in English) here.

How the arms industry is staging a European coup
23-01-2017 -

The EU is increasingly taking a pro-military stance, as the arms lobby exercises more influence. The election of Antoni Tajani last week as European Parliament president means the arms industry’s influence will grow further in the coming years, warns Bram Vranken.

This article originally appeared on EurActive.

The EU is increasingly taking a pro-military stance, as the arms lobby exercises more influence. The election of Antoni Tajani last week as European Parliament president means the arms industry’s influence will grow further in the coming years, warns Bram Vranken.

On 17 January 1961, then US President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the dangers of the  military-industrial complex. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Exactly 56 years later Eisenhower’s warning is more poignant than ever. On Tuesday 17 January, Antonio Tajani, well known for his pro-arms industry stance, was elected as new president of the European Parliament.

In 2013, Tajani said “he wanted to promote the arms industry”. As European Commissioner, Tajani outlined several policy schemes aimed at “strengthening the European defence industry”.

It’s no coincidence that Tajani is honorary president of the Sky and Space Intergroup, which is  hosted by the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), the most important lobby group of the European arms industry.

Money for weapons, not for social security

Already the EU is taking a turn for the worse. In November, the European Commission proposed a European Defence Action Plan. The aim of this plan is to “focus on capability needs and support the European defence industry”. Not surprisingly, the European Defence Action Plan almost exactly mirrors the propositions made in a position paper published in July by ASD Europe.

The proposed measures seriously endanger the EU as a civilian power. The Commission wants to give €3.5 billion to the arms industry to develop new military technologies from 2021 onward.  Additionally, the Commission proposes to stimulate member states to spend more on defence by deducting the costs of cooperative weapon programmes from their budgetary deficits.

In other words, while member states are forced to cut spending on social security, education and health care, spending on weapons would be exempt from any budgetary discipline. While millions of people in Europe have suffered from destitution and poverty due to the harsh austerity measures, the European Commission now cynically proposes to give billions of euros to the arms industry.

No political vision

Nobody knows where these weapons will be used. There barely is a common European foreign policy. Member states are deeply divided on how to tackle the crises in the Middle East. Without a strategic vision, financing military related programmes will only serve the short term interest of the arms industry.

But that seems exactly the European Commission’s objective. “The European Union needs a strong and competitive arms industry”, is the mantra the European Commission has been repeating over and over again.

The EU is confronted with dazzling problems. Populism is on the rise, the middle class is in crisis, inequality has never been higher and we are confronted with a catastrophic climate crisis. None of these problems will be solved by investing more in weapons.

On the contrary, military expenditure forms a huge opportunity cost to the detriment of billions of people around the world. According to research institute SIPRI, only 10% of global military expenditure would be enough to provide free and quality education (Sustainable Development Goal 4).

To eradicate poverty and hunger (SDGs 1 and 2) another 10% of the global military budgets would be sufficient. All SDGs could be accomplished by less than half of the worldwide military budget.

Eisenhower continued his speech in 1961 by saying that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

That a pro-arms industry MEP is now leading the representative body of the European citizenry is extremely worrying.

Peace activists stop arms lobby: "No EU money for arms dealers"
10-11-2016 -

Today over one hundred peace activists take action at the annual conference of the European Defence Agency. They block the entrance to the conference to protest the decision taken by the European Union to subsidize military research, which may hand over billions of euros to the arms industry.

Today over one hundred peace activists take action at the annual conference of the European Defence Agency. They block the entrance to the conference to protest the decision taken by the European Union to subsidize military research, which may hand over billions of euros to the arms industry.

We do not want any of our tax payer's money going to the arms industry”, says one of the activists, who is trying to stop a meeting of arms dealers and policy makers. The EDA annual conference is an annual happening where the arms industry meets politicians to discuss issues of defence cooperation and the future of the European arms industry.

It’s ridiculous that an industry which turns war into profit, lobbies for EU subsidies”, says Bram Vranken, spokesperson of the Belgian peace organisation Vredesactie. “An industry with an annual turnover of 100 billion euros should pay for its own Research and Development.”

Subsidies for arms companies

The European Parliament will be voting on the 2017 budget at the end of November. One of the more controversial aspects of the 2017 budget is the funding of a military research and development programme.

Initially the funding would amount to 90 million euros. This is only a preparatory programme. The European Commission’s long term objective is to set up a fully-fledged European Defence Research Programme worth EUR 3.5 billion over 2021-2027.

This is a drastic change to EU policy. Until now, military research has always been excluded from EU budget lines. “That’s only logical”, says Vranken, “The European Union has always presented itself as a peace project. That’s why it received a Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years ago. The EU should remain a peace project. We don’t need another interventionist power.”

The influence of a powerful lobby

The annual EDA conference shows the influence the arms lobby has on EU policy making. The EDA website boasts that the conference is “a unique platform for senior decision-makers to consider how to ensure that the [arms] sector remains fit for purpose”. The EDA is an official EU agency with the explicit mission of strengthening the European arms industry.

Not surprisingly EU member states are responsible for 28,4 percent of worldwide arms exports, according to the research institute SIPRI, including to countries involved in violent conflicts. Almost half of Saudi arms imports are European.

I do not want to put my security in the hands of the arms industry”, says one of the activists. “This will only lead to more arms exports, more violence and more war.

Our politicians cannot stop talking about tackling the root causes of conflict. The end of November they can make their priorities clear: do they want a Europe which subsidizes the arms industry or do they finally start working on conflict prevention and resolution”, Vranken adds.


Keep an eye on our facebook page for updates on the action: facebook or twitter

You can find high resolution pictures on flickr.









12 reasons why subsidies for military technology are a bad idea
30-08-2016 -

On Wednesday 31 August the European Parliament will cast their vote on subsidizing military technology. The arms industry has been lobbying for years for their deadly technology to be subsidized by the EU. Instead of subsidizing the arms industry, Europe would do better by investing in peace. Read here 12 reasons why the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT) calls the European Parliament to vote against any subsidies for the arms industry.

On Wednesday 31 August the European Parliament will cast their vote on subsidizing military technology. The arms industry has been lobbying for years for their deadly technology to be subsidized by the EU. Instead of subsidizing the arms industry, Europe would do better by investing in peace. Read here 12 reasons why the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT) calls the European Parliament to vote against any subsidies for the arms industry.

Activists on roof of arms factory "stop arming Saudi Arabia"
19-05-2016 -

Peace activists are taking action at the arms company Advionics in Oostkamp (Belgium). This morning they climbed up on the roof of the company, put up banners and set up their tents. With their action they denounce the export of arms to Saudi Arabia. They demand that the Flemish government fixes the loopholes in the Flemish arms export laws.

Peace activists are taking action at the arms company Advionics in Oostkamp (Belgium). This morning they climbed up on the roof of the company, put up banners and set up their tents. With their action they denounce the export of arms to Saudi Arabia. They demand that the Flemish government fixes the loopholes in the Flemish arms export laws.

The Flemish Peace Institute, an independent research institute, has revealed that the Saudi Eurofighter fighter jets are equipped with radars produced by Advionics. Initially, these were exported to Germany, but they ended up in Saudi Arabia. The Flemish government didn't have any knowledge at all about the final destination of the radars.

“The radars produced by Advionics are being used to bomb Yemen. The Saudi led coalition bombs hospitals, refugee camps and other infrastructure. It's horrid that Flemish weapons are being used in such a conflict. We refuse to leave this roof until the Flemish government stops exporting these weapons”, says one of the activists.

Flemish arms: nobody knows who's using them

During a radio interview early this year Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois claimed he has a full view of the end-use of Flemish arms exports. That's a outright lie. In reality the Flemish government barely knows where its weapons are going to. In 2015 69,4 percent of the end-use of Flemish arms was unknown. The Flemish arms export laws use a system of general licensing. The end-use of these general licenses are per definition unknown.

“All considerations regarding security, peace and human rights are neglected to the benefit of economic profit,” says Bram Vranken from Vredesactie. “The Saudi use of the radars produced by Advionics is a poignant example of the consequences of such a policy.”

Flemish government cannot keep it's own promises

In January minister-president Bourgeois said it is very unlikely that any weapons will be exported to Saudi Arabia in the future. The minister president bluffs.

“Officially the Flemish government doesn't export any arms to Saudi Arabia. Everybody agrees this is a bad idea. Including minister-president Bourgeois,” says Bram Vranken from Vredesactie. “Research shows however components produced by Advionics are ending up in Saudi Arabia. Without a fundamental revision of the arms trade decree Bourgeois cannot even keep his own promises.”

One of the activists on the roof says: “It's completely irresponsible to export weapons without even knowing where they will end up. Arms trade does not lead to a safer Europe in a safer world. On the contrary. The conflicts in the Middle East are fueled by our weapons. This has to stop immediately.”


Support the activists!

Joins us in Oostkamp to show the activists on the roof that they're not alone. The adress: Siemenslaan 16 in 8020 Oostkamp (Oostkamp is close to Bruges, the Siemenslaan is a 20 minute walk from the trains tation of Oostkamp, near exit 9 ont the E40). Keep an eye on our facebook page for updates on the action or call us for more info: 0472/513766.

The Flemish arms export laws are leaky as a sieve. Send an e-mail to Flemish MEPs and ask them to urgently strive for a strict and stringent arms export policy. E-mailing is fast and easy through this online form.

Want to learn more about the arms trade in Flanders?

More background information on Belgian and Flemish arms exports are available here (in Dutch).
Our proposals for a strict and stringent arms export policy can be found in this file (in Dutch).


Court victory gives momentum to long struggle against London arms fair
28-04-2016 -

After a week-long trial that ended on April 15, a judge from the Stratford Magistrate Court in London found me and seven co-defendants not guilty for our actions last September to shut down the Defence Security and Equipment International arms fair, or DSEI, on the basis that we were preventing a greater crime. This is a huge victory in the long struggle to shut down one of the largest arms fairs in the world, which takes place in east London every other year.

This article first appeared on Waging Nonviolence.

The last fair was in September 2015, and it saw more than 1,500 exhibitors from around the world displaying the latest technology of the war industry. DSEI is an invitation-only event, where invites go to governments, industry representatives and specialized press. Delegations from repressive regimes and countries violating human rights — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel — walk through its corridors every other year browsing the latest weaponry. This huge event is not just to showcase the latest technology, but also to facilitate new sales.

My first action against DSEI was in 2005, after I had recently moved to London from Chile. That year I joined Critical Mass, which biked through the streets of London with loud sound systems and colorful signs against the arms fair. We biked to the Excel Centre — the venue where the arms fairs happens — and for the first time in my life I saw people lying on the ground using arm tubes to lock themselves to each other to make the job of removing them harder for the police. I was impressed by the number of people taking action against an arms fair. However, friends told me that the turnout was lower than in 2003, when huge numbers protested against DSEI, and there was a high level of police repression. In Chile I had been part of a very small group of people protesting a public aerospace show called FIDAE. Schools and families see it as a nice day out, while in London the fair was closed to the public and took place with a high degree of secrecy.

I continued to join Critical Mass against DSEI almost every time it came to London and participated in marches, attended conference and wrote articles about the fair. For several years the number of people protesting continued to decline. By 2009, I wrote about how hard it is to mobilize for DSEI because of the difficulty of building momentum for an event that happens every other year and to which people could see no end. But I also argued it was part of the cycle of a campaign to feel that things are stagnated before they pick up again. This was exactly what happened with DSEI, as an increase in the number of people and the range of actions took place in 2011. This was due in large part to a new coalition formed earlier that year called Stop the Arms Fair, which brought together many organizations and activist that revitalized the campaign to shut down DSEI.

At every DSEI action, the strategy was more or less the same: to disrupt its proceedings while it was happening. Using a combination of direct action, marches and meetings to raise public awareness we hoped to stop people from attending the fair. We also wanted to bring attention to the role of the fair in the war machine and to the institutions that facilitate it — for example, the museums and venues hosting official DSEI receptions and dinners.

In 2013, there was an important change to the strategy. A “Big Day of Action” took place the Saturday before the DSEI started, followed by a week of action during the actual fair. On the Saturday action, activists managed to block the entrance to the Excel Centre for several hours with no equipment accessing the site. This success showed the way forward for the struggle against the arms fair — the key being to stop it before it began.

Stopping the preparations

This was the strategy during a week-long self-organized set of actions with specific focuses each day for 2015. It all started on September 7 with a day of action to stop arming Israel. The first action was a blockade — for hours — of an armored vehicle that was heading to the Excel Centre. On the days that followed there were actions focused on faith groups against war profiteering, the arms trade and climate change, academics against the arms trade, and freedom of movement, not of weapons. The week concluded with a “Big Day of Action.” The Stop the Arms Fair coalition and Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, provided the general frame for the different focuses each day and supported groups taking actions, but each group doing an action was self-organized.

By connecting the issue of the arms trade to other struggles — such as Palestinian solidarity, climate change and refugees — it meant that a diversity of groups got involved during the week. Important bridges were built between movements, and the arms trade was seen not as an isolated problem but rather as part of the wider struggle for social justice.

In early 2015, I moved to Belgium and received an invitation from the Belgian peace organization Vredesactie, or Peace Action, to join them in going to DSEI. Vredesactie runs the campaign I Stop the Arms Trade, which focuses on the European Union’s support of the arms industry. Soon after moving to Belgium I got involved in their campaign and occupied the offices of the lobbying organization AeroSpace and Defence Industry Association of Europe to draw attention to the European Union’s support for war profiteering.

Initially I was going to London primarily to observe and to hold meetings to build collaborations between Vredesactie and CAAT, but — after several exchanges between the five of us traveling from Belgium — we decided that three of us would blockade using arm tubes and that the other two would provide support and do media work. In short, we had a small affinity group.

We decided to do our action on the Big Day of Action called for on September 12, which had the aim of gathering as many people as possible to continue to disrupt preparations for the arms fair. During the morning of the action there were speeches from a wide range of groups and organizations. As the day progressed, we took the streets and the police began to remove us to let the traffic pass. At one point, the police were taking longer to act, and the three of us took our gear, ran to the road and got on the ground, locking ourselves together using the arm tubes.

This meant we had secured the blockade for some time, as the police in the United Kingdom — in most cases — will not just move you if you are locking on. The blockade provided a perfect place for people to gather, and a loudspeaker was used to continue with presentations. During the hours that we were on the blockade we heard from Isa Alaali, a Bahraini citizen, about the torture he experienced, as well as the U.K. military’s support of the Bahraini regime. We also heard from Mexican activists about the Ayotzinapa struggle for justice and the militarization of Mexican society.

From the beginning, the police came to tell us that if we didn’t unlock ourselves they would arrest us. But they didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Hours passed and there was no sign that they were going to cut our tubes and arrest us. After several hours the police finally made their move, clearing the road of all the other protesters. In the end, they arrested the three of us on charges of willful obstruction of the highway.

Even though at any moment we could have released ourselves and avoided arrest, we wanted to maintain the blockade to disrupt the preparations of the arms fair for as long as possible. We were also aware that arrest could mean being charged and put on trial, but we didn’t really think much about it at the time. Our focus was on the action itself. After the arrest we were in custody for only a few hours before being given an order to come back to court a month later.

Putting the arms trade on trial

That court appearance was crucial. We could either plead guilty and pay a fine or plead not guilty and face a trial. It was not just the three of us in court, but everyone who had been arrested during the week of action against DSEI. For some time I was unsure what to plea. I wasn’t really in the position to face a long trial, and it seemed that the chances of winning in court were small. But at the same time I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to use the court in campaigning, as I had been arrested in the past but never gone to court. The fact that all the other arrestees were clear on pleading not guilty helped me make the decision. This was a collective action and we would treat the trial collectively as well. The goal was to put the arms trade on trial by facing trial ourselves.

At the court hearing the judge then set a date in February for the trial to give the necessary time to collect the evidence. The lawyers managed to unite all the cases into one — at first there were three separate cases — so that there would only be one trial for all of us. Both the lawyers and defendants could then combine efforts, and also crucially we could all use the same expert witnesses.

The initial February date was moved to April. Between the time of the first court appearance and the trial, there was a huge amount of work to do, primarily by the team of lawyers building the case, but also by the co-defendants. Our task was to find expert witnesses who could give evidence about the illegalities at DSEI, as well as the larger impact of the arms trade. We also worked on the visibility of the case, by writing a statement from the co-defendants and organizing a crowdfunding campaign and a fundraising event.

During the trial, which was scheduled to last five days, we heard evidence from all eight co-defendants. Among them was Alaali, who was forced to flee Bahrain after being imprisoned and tortured for his participation in the 2011 protests. During the uprising, thousands of Bahrainis protested and were crushed by force with a violent intervention from Saudi Arabia. Thousands were arrested and hundreds killed. Isa told the court that he was arrested three times in 2013, and that police held a gun to his head. He was taken to the police station and stripped and beaten until he became unconscious. The police tied his hands behind his back, beat him and threatened to cut off his penis in an effort to force him to give false confessions. Bahrain has purchased nearly $65 million of weapons from the United Kingdom since the 2011 uprising. Needless to say, Isa felt compelled to protest at DSEI.

Lisa Butler, another co-defendant, highlighted the ongoing mass killings of the Kurdish people by Turkey. Having visited Kurdistan recently, she explained to the judge about the violent curfews that have been imposed on Kurdish cities. Tanks and rockets have been firing shells and mortars into the cities and snipers have been gunning people down on the street, including children. Instead of banning Turkey from DSEI, the British government welcomed these war criminals with open arms.

Other defendants stated that they were particularly concerned with the sales of arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel. As such, they were compelled to act because illegal weapons, such as torture equipment, have been found at previous DSEI events.

“In every single previous arms fair, at least since 2005, illegal activity has been found to be happening,” co-defendant Tom Franklin told the court. “We have evidence of that. We have parliamentary reports. We have reports from Amnesty International. We have reports from Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, listing illegal weapons being sold.”

When my turn came to give evidence I was quite nervous. The entire time that I was being cross-examined by the prosecution I felt like I was giving the wrong answers, undermining my case. But at the same time, I knew that it was the right thing to do — to stand there and denounce the crimes happening at DSEI. My statement also focused on growing up in Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and the impact this had on me as a kid.

“I lived under a dictatorship for nearly 10 years. I remember curfews and a general sense of fear of the police and the military due to the horrible regime’s repression,” I testified. “The father of my school classmate was murdered by the secret police when I was six years old.” I also mentioned in court that for many years I had been protesting in different ways against DSEI and that for me the action was not just about ending the sale of illegal weapons, but to shut down the fair as a step toward stopping the war machine. After giving evidence, there was a huge weight taken off me.

We were joined in court by expert witnesses. Among them was Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International, who talked about the illegal weapons that have been sold at every DSEI arms fair. He also highlighted the “legal” weapons that are used illegally. In his report, Sprague gave evidence of arms being used in the Yemen war. “[The Yemen] conflict has cost at least 3,000 civilian lives, 2.5 million people [have been] displaced and 82 percent of the population — some 21.2 million people — currently require some form of humanitarian assistance,” he testified. “Importantly, official delegations from countries directly involved in military action in Yemen were in receipt of official U.K. government invitations to the event, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan.”

Sprague told the court that Saudi Arabia is the largest recipient of U.K. arms. Indeed, from July to September 2015, the British government granted export licenses for bombs — of the type being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia — worth $1.7 billion. This was four times greater than the total exported to all countries in the previous four years.

A key moment in the trial happened when the defense asked Sprague what difference all the evidence he has given to Parliament and other official committees about the crimes taking place at DSEI has made. “I have to say all this has made zero difference,” he replied, which supported our argument that it was necessary to take direct action to stop these illegalities from happening.

Kat Hobbs of CAAT gave the court an overview of Clarion Events, the company that organizes DSEI. “Sixty-one countries were formally invited to DSEI in 2015 by the government, and many more were invited by Clarion, who advertised the fair as the ‘place to do business,’” she said. “Of those 61 countries, 14 are classified as being authoritarian and six are at war, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

Acquitted for preventing a greater crime

After the week-long trial it was time for the judge to present his judgement. “The defendants belief that weapons were being sold unlawfully at DSEI was supported by the detailed expert evidence on this point,” he stated. “I was impressed by the evidence of each defendant … as to how they came to the conclusion that the form of direct action which they chose to adopt was the only effective method left to them in seeking to prevent the unlawful sale of arms which they believed was occurring at the 2015 DSEI … I believe that the defendants were perfectly sincere in their conclusions first that the unlawful sale of arms would almost certainly be occurring at DSEI and, secondly, that their intervention was necessary to seek to prevent this.”

We were acquitted of all charges on the basis that our actions were justified in order to prevent a greater crime. It was “a wonderful moment in which research, activism and the law came together to produce a crucial decision,” said arms trade expert and former member of the South African Parliament Andrew Feinstein. “It is in this way that we will ultimately change the nature of the global arms trade.”

Since the trial verdict there has been extensive media coverage and interest in the case. There have also been calls for the government and the Metropolitan Police to investigate DSEI, but investigations have happened in the past, and as Sprague said, they have made zero difference. Therefore, it is crucial to continue to take action to shut down the fair.

The day of the verdict CAAT sent out a pledge for people to take action in 2017 and already nearly 500 people inspired by the court verdict have signed it. Among activists, there is a belief that next time, if we have enough people willing to put their bodies on the line — combined with other forms of actions — we can actually shut the arms fair down for good.

European military industry: EU, give us 3.5 billion euros for military research
18-03-2016 -

On 25 February a so-called 'Group of Personalities' (GoP) released the report 'European Defence Research: The case for an EU-funded defence R&T programme'. It argues for the inclusion of military research in the next round of the Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, the EU instrument for funding research projects. The report was written at the request of the European Commission.

This article by Stop Wapenhandel was first published here.

The Group of Personalities (GoP) that wrote this report, consists of 16 members. Nine of these are industry representatives (from Indra, MBDA, Saab, TNO, Airbus, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Frauenhofer and Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg). Also participating is Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, who is also head of the European Defence Agency. Civil society is not represented in the group.

The EU has been funding industrial research under Framework Programmes for many years. The current cycle, called Horizon 2020, is running from 2014 to 2021. While military research has been exempt from EU-funding until now, the military and security industry already found their niche in the 'security' part of these programs, with hundreds of millions of euros of annual funding. The security research program was set up on advice of another 'Group of Personalities' which was also dominated by industry representatives. Claiming the EU needs to bolster its military posture and that support for defence industry would create many jobs, the European Commission first proposed EU-funded military research in the summer of 2013. Two years later the Commission announced the launch of a pilot programme: the Preparatory Action (PA) on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)-related research, to start in 2017.

In the meantime, in March 2015, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, set up the 'Group of Personalities'. The objective was clear from the start:  “Securing the long-term future for our defence industry is in all our interests. Both nationally and collectively. The Commission can play an important supporting role to reinforce national defence industries and research capacities.”

The Group of Personalities is enthusiastically elaborating on this in the recently published report. It starts with alarming language about the perceived state of the European military industry and the way this supposedly threatens European security. It stresses that EU funding for military R&T (a European Defence Research Programme (EDRP)) is necessary, also “in view of the possible need to strenghten Europe's overall military posture” and to create a “level of strategic autonomy”. More spending on R&T is needed now, or else “the required capabilities”, build on “ decades of hard-earned experience on how to develop effective leading-edge knowledge-based military systems”, “will have dissipated”.

Against this background existing spending on security research is clearly considered not enough: “The current framework for security research within Horizon 2020 [...] is providing only limited support even to dual-use projects, even in those pillars such as ‘Border and External Security’ where the technology required can be similar to (or derived Europe’s defence research: the EU’s added value from) that used for defence capabilities, thus missing out on opportunities to enhance interoperability between civil protection and military forces. These instruments may also need to be refocused, adjusted and better coordinated if they are to produce any significant benefits.”

Key recommendations include:

- For the Preparatory Action (PA) “a balanced approach should ensure that foreground IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] be vested in the consortium partners in the case of grants, that background IPR be protected and that the recipients make a package of information available to the EU and member states explaining the aim of the research and summarising the results achieved.”

- “[...] only legal entities in the 28 EU member states (plus Norway) should be eligible to participate.”

- “The PA should aim at providing full 100% coverage of the eligible direct costs, plus a percentage higher than 25% - and surely no lower than that of non-EU competitors – for additional costs. Options for co-funding by member states should also be considered […].”

- “The PA/EDRP should […] be part of a broader European defence policy framework […] aimed at facilitating and enabling defence cooperation at all levels.”

- “[...] a total of 75-100 million euros should be earmarked for the PA”

- “[...] the PA should lead to a major dedicated EDRP as part of the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2021-27). […] the EDRP will need a total budget of at least 3.5 billion euros for the period 2021-27 in order to be credible and make a substantial difference.” (“[a] budget large enough to make a real difference, but without leading the member states to further reduce their national defence budgets.”)

- “[...] findings and results [of the EU-funded defence R&T framework programme] should be supported which are meaningful enough to stimulate subsequent multinational and national development acquisition programmes”, while “it is essential that research rests upon sound market principles. Its results must have market potential, be cost-effective and boost industrial competetiveness together with cooperation.”

According to the GoP this should all be accompanied by a large role for the military industry: “To assist with the preparation of the EDRP, the logic of the Group of Personalities should be transferred to a dedicated ‘European Defence Advisory Board’ (EDAB). This board would advise on all aspects of the Defence Action Plan, give strategic guidance on the principle, structure and modalities of the EDRP, inform its research agenda, and play an active part in the definition of a long-term European military capabilities blueprint, building on the ongoing debate about a possible European defence ‘White Book’. Such an EDAB would also have direct access to the highest level of the EU institutions to ensure clarity of purpose and consistency of action in the preparation and negotiation of the next MFF. ”

So, in short: the European military and security industry wants at least half a billion euros a year to fund military research, from which the results can largely be kept secret, with the industry having a large say in the way European military policy is going to be shaped in the next decades. The report 'European Defence Research' is a shameless piece of self-promotion and demanding money and other support, without even touching on the question what military research will contribute to improving the lives of people in and outside the EU. Nevertheless, just as earlier with the set up of EU-funded security research, it has to be feared that this report will indeed form the basis on which EU-funding for military research will move forward. 

Read the full report here.

Peace activists disrupt European defence conference
16-11-2015 -

This afternoon up to thirty activists interrupted the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Around 1:30 PM, activists poured red paint at the entrance to the conference where European policy makers and the arms industry are convening to discuss the future of European defence.

This afternoon up to thirty activists interrupted the annual conference of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Around 1:30 PM, activists poured red paint at the entrance to the conference where European policy makers and the arms industry are convening to discuss the future of European defence.

“While the Middle-East is burning, the EU arms export to the region is at its highest level ever”, says one of the activists. “The fact that European politicians are meeting with the CEOs of the arms industry behind closed doors is, therefore, unacceptable.”

Several high-level politicians such as Federica Mogherini, high representative for foreign affairs, and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, as well as the CEOs of the European arms companies MBDA and Finmeccanica are expected to attend the conference.

European arms in conflicts worldwide

One of the aims of the EDA is to strengthen the European arms industry. High on the agenda today is public funding for research in arms technology and strengthening European military capabilities.

“Strengthening the arms industry does not lead to a secure Europe in a safer world. On the contrary. European weapons are being used in conflicts worldwide and are a catalyst for violence and conflict,” says Bram Vranken, spokesperson for Vredesactie.

Arms export numbers soaring

The European arms export has steadily increased over the past decade. The number of arms exported has doubled in just 10 years. In 2012 alone EU member states exported weapons for a total amount of 40 billion euros.

One reason for this is the liberalisation of European export policy. A 2009 directive substantially facilitated the trade of military equipment between EU member states.

“While the EU arms trade has been liberalised, there is no equivalent EU control policy. Arms can easily leave the EU through the member state with the weakest legal framework,” says Vranken. “It is not a surprise that dictators can easily buy European weapons.”

Of the 51 regimes labeled as "authoritarian" by the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2012, 43 were able to buy weapons in the European Union.

The second biggest importer of EU arms is Saudi Arabia. Despite the gross violations of international humanitarian law that Saudi Arabia is committing in Yemen, it is still able to buy European weapons.

“If politicians really want to tackle the fundamental causes of conflicts, why do they not begin by stopping the arms trade,” Vranken continues.

EU exports insecurity

One of the attendees at the annual conference is Giovanni Soccodato, Vice President of the arms company Finmeccanica. In 2012, Wikileaks revealed that the company sold communication equipment to Syrian security forces despite the on-going civil war and an EU arms embargo imposed on the country.

“While the arms industry exports weapons to dictators and conflict zones, it receives a warm welcome here today. We are preventing this from happening,” says one of the activists.

Belgian peace activists prosecuted for action against arms fair in the UK
12-10-2015 -

In early September 2015, Belgian peace activists were arrested in London. Their crime? Trying to prevent the world’s largest arms fair from going ahead.

In early September 2015, Belgian peace activists were arrested in London. Their crime? Trying to prevent the world’s largest arms fair from going ahead. The British courts are bringing proceedings against them for ‘obstructing traffic’. “The real criminals can go about their business while peaceful protest is nipped in the bud,” argues Bram Vranken, one of the accused.

The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair was held in London from 15 to 18 September. The DSEI is the world’s largest arms fair, with a total of 30,000 visitors. Arms companies from all over the world come here to sell their wares. A wide variety of products was on sale, ranging from guns and tanks to fighter aircraft and even warships. The fair attracted around 30,000 visitors including representatives of regimes that do not respect human rights and countries that are at war.

Torture devices and cluster munitions

As many as 1,500 arms companies exhibited their wares at DSEI this year, ranging from giants such as BAE Systems, Thales, Finmeccanica and Airbus to highly specialised companies making products such as tear gas grenades.

Illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and torture devices have been exhibited at every edition of the fair since 2005. Whether illegal weapons were present this year is not known: the Amnesty International weapons expert who was aiming to investigate this was denied access. We do know that this year’s exhibitors included two companies that produce torture devices and one manufacturer of cluster munitions.

Belgian companies were among the exhibitors. FN Herstal, the Belgian Security and Defence Industry association (BSDI), Esterline Belgium and Xenics were all present. FN Herstal is renowned for its guns. As many as half of European exports of small arms to the Arab world come from Belgium.

Arms exports pour fuel on the fire

War begins at events such as the DSEI arms fair, where not only arms dealers but also politicians are welcome guests.

Little is known about the 30,000 customers who come to buy arms at DSEI. What is certain is that they include many official delegations and military customers. We also know that the British government officially invited 61 countries to send a delegation. The invitees included authoritarian regimes, countries that do not respect human rights, and countries that are at war. The guest list featured no fewer than 14 countries which can be considered as authoritarian according to the Economist Democracy Index, among them Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Bahrain. The list also comprises four countries known not to respect human rights, and six countries currently at war including Iraq, Pakistan and Ukraine.

The trading of arms at fairs such as these has global implications. Weapons have no expiry dates and remain in circulation for a long time. European arms and munitions pour fuel on the fire and feed the conflicts that rage at our external borders.

Stop the arms fair

A coalition of peace movements and activists under the banner “Stop The Arms Fair” joined battle against the DSEI arms fair. For a week hundreds of protestors peacefully blockaded the access roads leading to the ExCel centre seeking to prevent the setting up of the arms fair. Action also took place during the fair itself. Twelve people were arrested and are scheduled to appear in court in April 2016. They include two Belgians.

The defendants are accused of obstructing traffic, an offence which carries a maximum fine of £ 1,500. “We will plead not guilty,” says Bram Vranken, one of the accused activists. “The British legal system allows a law to be broken in order to prevent a greater crime. That was exactly what we were trying to do with our action. After all, European weapons claim many victims all over the world.”

At a first court hearing on 11 November, the activists had to propose their expert witnesses. The court accepted the activists’ legal arguments and approved the expert witnesses.

Andrew Feinstein, journalist and author of the book Merchants of death, and Olly Sprague, arms expert at Amnesty International, have already announced that they will testify in the activists’ defence. Sprague has been monitoring the DSEI arms fair for many years. Every year since 2005, he has discovered illegal weapons on show, ranging from torture devices to cluster munitions. This year he was refused entry.

“Last Wednesday the British court accepted our expert witnesses and gave the green light to continue with our legal arguments. So now it is not us but the arms dealers who are in the dock,” says Vranken.

Bram, one of the activists, takes up the story:

We tried in non-violent ways to stop the fair being set up. The two roads leading to the ExCel centre where the fair was to be held were blockaded by hundreds of people for more than four hours to stop trucks delivering their war materials. This had a real effect. The setting up of the fair was delayed for hours until the police decided to arrest us. I then spent several hours in a cell, and after that was told I would be prosecuted.

We are being prosecuted for ‘obstructing traffic’. But the only traffic that day was heading for the DSEI arms fair. As if it’s not bad enough that the fair can be held in the first place, those who oppose it are being dragged through the courts. Peaceful protest is criminalised while war criminals act with impunity. I will plead not guilty. Not because I deny the facts I am charged with, but because I believe they were necessary to prevent a greater crime.

The weapons used to fight conflicts worldwide are exported from Europe. The DSEI fair is a key link in the chain of conflict and violence. So it is here that we can stop this.

The European arms trade destroys thousands of lives, while European legislation is systematically weakened for the benefit of commercial interests. Europe talks a lot about tackling the root causes of flows of refugees. If Europe is sincere, it should start by stopping the arms trade.

Do you want to support the defendants financially? You can do that through this crowdfunding page.
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