“Someone is making a killing from war”

In this 2005 note for War Resisters’ International, Howard Clark explains why the campaign against war profiteering is integral to WRI’s broader promotion of nonviolence. Taking action against those who profit from war involves facing a powerful lobby in favour of military expenditure.

Howard Clark
19 November 2014
A visitor inspects soldiers wearing camouflage suits at the DSEI arms fair in London, 2013.

DSEI arms fair in London, 2013. Demotix/Amer Ghazzal. All rights reserved.WRI is not just committed to resist war but to promote nonviolent action to remove the causes of war. This is one reason why part of the new nonviolence programme will be a campaign against war profiteering. And to promote our commitment with nonviolence and antimilitarism. Taking WRI's fundamental critique that "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war".

War profiteering has been a permanent feature of the military landscape. It is not just that the search for profits can foment war.

Military rivalry has also gone hand in hand with industrial and technological mobilisation for war, reaching new heights in the second half of the twentieth century. Those who profit from war form a powerful lobby in favour of military expenditure and war preparations.

To combat their influence requires identifying and exposing their activities and interests. Those who currently depend on war-related work for their livelihood need support in constructing socially useful alternatives.

In adopting this campaign theme, WRI will not duplicate the work of other groups. Many countries already have bodies that have carried out detailed research into their own war profiteers, and there also exist functioning international networks – either with formal links such as the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT) or contacts effective for mobilising international actions, for instance at arms fairs.

In this campaign, WRI plans to build on the existing work of its affiliates and other groups with whom we cooperate. At times certain WRI members have more contact with each other through regional or single purpose networks than they do through WRI itself – and that's how it should be. No monopolies here! But we are convinced that our campaign can add to the momentum of what exists – making connections otherwise missed, providing a forum for exchanges on tactics and strategy, and sharpening common themes.

Regarding war as a crime against humanity, WRI is committed to promote nonviolence to remove the causes of war.

The financiers of war

We – the public – become financiers of war through our taxes and through the way banks use our money. The WRI office itself and many WRI affiliates are already involved in using war tax resistance as a way of raising public consciousness about this. In some countries, WRI groups have also begun to look at the role played by banks in using their clients' money to invest in the arms industry. Perhaps this is most advanced in Belgium where a campaign involving our Flemish section Forum voor Vredesactie has caused a commotion. "My Money Clear Conscience?" has produced two weighty reports exposing the military investments of five major banks in Belgium.

In Spain, KEM-MOC in the Basque country is campaigning against BBVA – Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria – with actions at its headquarters in Bilbao and at shareholders' meetings. As a first step, the Madrid group MOC-Carabanchel has produced a sticker for use mainly on cash machines, a 50 note saying "Your savings finance war. Find out in the bank".

In the past certain banks have been targets for campaigns of disinvestment.

One of the most successful campaigns took place in Britain against Barclays Bank for its connections with apartheid in South Africa. When the campaign began, Barclays attracted more than half of each generation of university students to open accounts with them, but gradually the picture changed. Not only did the proportion of students opening accounts fall dramatically but, over a 16-year campaign, many individuals and even corporate account-holders such as churches, trade unions and municipalities disinvested until Barclays sold out its South African holdings.

The manufacturers

Weapons manufacturers enjoy secure profits – especially if they are engaged in multinational projects such as the Eurofighter. A number of WRI sections, for instance in Germany, France and Spain, are engaged in campaigns against the Eurofighter project.

As well as the guarantees offered in the contract, these companies often enjoy subsidies from national or even regional governments – KEM-MOC has publicised that Sener, a manufacturer of military components, is receiving subsidies from the Basque government.

There have been many dramatic actions at various arms factories, some even including breaking into the factory to damage weapons. Perhaps the best known was when Ploughshares activists damaged British aerospace Hawks. One of the items they placed in the cockpit was a video, showing Indonesia's use of Hawks in East Timor.

When they played this videotape in court, it helped convince the jury that the activists were trying to prevent a greater crime.

Some arms manufacturers produce consumer goods and so could be a target for boycott campaigns.

Also, a number of campaigns have tried to reach members of the workforce to discuss how their skills could be contribute to the manufacture of socially useful goods instead of weapons components.

In various countries, anti-militarist groups have bought shares so they can attend the annual shareholders' meetings to raise issues there, while others seek to identify corporate shareholders that might have qualms about weapons manufacture – for instance, churches and trade unions.

Student groups have sometimes arranged a ‘warm reception’ for such companies when they come to campus to recruit those about to graduate. War Resisters' League (WRL) in the USA has a counter-recruitment strategy, with a focus on Halliburton recruiting employees on college campuses.

The ‘outsourcers’ or ‘force multipliers’

In Iraq, foreign employees of private contractors outnumber every national military contingent, except that of the USA itself. Globally, recent years have seen the rise of private contractors such as Dyncorps, Halliburton, Saab, Serco and Sodexho who carry out multiple service contracts for the military.

Action lines against such companies at the moment mainly consist of researching and spreading awareness among the public of the role such companies are playing.

WRL has set up a specific "Merchants of Death" speakers' panel that pays special attention to such contractors.

As most such companies depend exclusively on government contracts, prospects for boycotts or other consumer action are limited.

But some anti-militarist groups are acquiring shares in order to intervene in shareholders' meetings. The Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp(aign) has begun a shareholder campaign against Serco (part of the consortium that runs Aldermaston – which is being expanded for Britain's new generation of nuclear weapons).

Arms fairs

Exhibitions where military-related industries display their wares have become the target for a wide and imaginative range of actions – especially because such events usually last several days.

DSEI in London, AFCEA in Brussels and Eurosatory in Paris are three fairs that have attracted attention from anti-militarist groups in several European countries.

While many actions take place on the streets or even metros leading to the fairs, activists in various guises have managed to enter fairs to challenge what is going on there. Sometimes the campaigns before such events have succeeded in persuading municipalities to withdraw cooperation, even causing their cancellation.

Originally published in The Broken Rifle (War Resisters’ International), September 2005, No.67

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData