Why I helped “shut down” Europe’s weapons lobby

I helped “shut down” the offices of arms lobby group ASD on Tuesday. (Vredesactie/Flickr)

Today, I took part in the “shutting down” of a lobby group representing some of the world’s top weapons exporters.

At lunchtime more than a dozen activists entered the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) headquarters in Brussels, announcing that we were taking it over. We distributed letters of dismissal to its staff, covered some of its reception area in white sheets and posted notices saying “arms dealers evicted.”

Our action drew a hostile response from Kyle Martin, an ASD manager. He began scrunching up our papers and tearing down our notices, telling us that we were trespassing on private property.

His attachment to private property is a little bizarre, given that the ASD wants the arms industry to be heavily subsidized from the public purse. A recent ASD paper on weapons innovation states that “100 percent funding to [the arms] industry should be considered the norm.”

ASD includes five of the planet’s fifteen leading arms companies: BAE Systems, Airbus, Thales, Finmeccanica and Rolls-Royce. All of these firms have major links to Israel.

Finmeccanica is supplying jet trainer aircraft to the Israeli military as part of a $1 billion deal. BAE Systems provides electronic equipment to the Israeli military.

Thales has teamed up with Israel’s Elbit to make drones for the British army.

Airbus is developing an “early warning system” for warplanes along with Israel Aerospace Industries. And Rolls-Royce’s engines can be found in many aircraft used by the Israeli military.

Benefits to Israel

ASD is also involved in lobbying activities which have proven beneficial for Israel’s merchants of death.

For many years, ASD has been urging the EU to allocate a greater proportion of its scientific research program to military technology. In response, the Union has established a “security research” scheme.

Israel’s weapons firms have been participating on an equal basis to European companies and institutions in that scheme ever since its inception. As a result, the manufacturers of drones used to kill children in Gaza and of surveillance equipment installed along Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank have benefited handsomely from European subsidies.

Our action at ASD’s headquarters led to an impromptu teach-in. I was asked to give a briefing about how the weapons industry has been influencing EU policy. Jan Pie, ASD’s urbane and apparently unruffled secretary general, listened to me, interrupting to claim that all of the Union’s research activities are of a civilian nature.

That was a lie.

As I documented in my book Corporate Europe, ASD has been pushing the EU to bankroll research into technology with both civilian and military applications. The group has enjoyed considerable success; quite a few of the EU’s science projects relate to drones, inherently military aircraft pioneered by Israel.

ASD is trying to promote drones as beneficial to Europe’s economy. In March, Pie predicted that drones could contribute to 150,000 “direct jobs” in 2050.

Not possessing a crystal ball, I have no way of gauging whether such forecasts will come to fruition. But even if they do, the strategy Pie wants Europe to pursue is at odds with the interests and desires of its people.

Pernicious

Gaza has been the world’s main laboratory for drones in recent times. Do we really want Europe’s economic policies to be inspired by a cruel experiment against a besieged people?

The staff we met at ASD didn’t want to admit they are causing harm in the real world. Kyle Martin tried to dismiss my complaints about how Saudi Arabia is the number one client for some of ASD’s members as irrelevant. Saudi Arabia has, of course, been busy bombing Yemen lately with the aid of Western weapons.

ASD called the police. We refused to leave when the cops arrived, so they removed us from the building. The cops requested our identity cards and wrote down our names.

Several police cars turned up outside the building where ASD is based but we weren’t taken into custody.

The arms lobbyists of Brussels are usually insulated from reality. Today was an exception.

We confronted them with the consequences of their pernicious activities.

Activists told the arms dealers they have been evicted. (Vredesactie/Flickr)

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Heartiest congratulations, David, to you and your colleagues for intruding on this ghastly cabal. They're a gang of money-grubbing mass murderers and deserve far worse than a day's interrupted "business".

David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).