Campaigning against the arms trade has always been a David and Goliath battle with a few small underfunded non-profit organizations against a massive, wealthy industry in which multi-billion dollar deals are routine. Good news usually comes after years of quiet, mostly thankless work.
All that is to say that I was extremely happy to read about the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation this week. DESO is (or was) a uniquely British government department whose sole purpose is to promote the sale of British weapons abroad using whatever “legal” means available to them.
During my time in the UK I spent a good deal of my time working with SPEAK, a Christian student campaigning network who was working to close DESO. In 2004 we spent a few hours on the coldest day of the year praying in a trench outside DESO headquarters and bringing them baskets filled with daffodils. As with many public witnesses, it was a whole lot of work and shivering that felt like a drop in a vast, empty bucket.
Of course, SPEAK was not the only organization campaigning to close DESO. We partnered with the aptly named Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Fellowship of Reconciliation UK. They’ve been working to close DESO since 1974. Another important ally has been the Guardian newspaper who have the committed the time of investigative editor and a top reporter for the last four years to investigating and meticulously documenting arms industry corruption. They even created this handy dandy interactive map showing the seven countries where corruption scandals are under investigation. Don’t you wish the New York Times or the Washington Post would investigate Boeing and Raytheon so thoroughly? If you’re still not tired of following links, check out this interview with the Guardian reporters responsible
And of course, the struggle against the arms dealers in the UK isn’t over. BAE systems and other arms corporations will continue to bribe customers from corrupt, despotic regimes to buy their billion dollar fighter jets, missiles and howitzers (note the handy captions describing which country each weapon is being sold to).