openDemocracyUK

Disarming our culture

There are lots of things you can expect to see at the London Transport Museum. It has a great range of vintage trains, buses and merchandise. However, not everything is so innocent.

Ian Pocock
12 June 2014

Unfortunately, the museum has recently been playing host to an international arms company called Thales. Thales has been a Corporate Member of the museum since December 2012 and has even used its premises to meet with, and lobby, the UK Trade and Investment Defence & Security Organisation, the government body responsible for promoting arms exports.

Thales may promote itself as an engineering firm, but it is actually the eleventh biggest arms company in the world. It may have other divisions, but in 2012 60% of its sales came from weapons. It has a history of fuelling oppression and has sold arms and drone components to a range of brutal and repressive regimes; including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Colombia, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates.

The London Transport Museum is far from the only public institution to take money from the arms trade. The Science Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Tower of London are among those that have hosted events for arms dealers or taken money from arms companies.

Buying respectability

Arms companies aren't just looking to hold events though, they're looking to build relationships and cement sponsorship agreements. This is particularly evident when it comes to educational events, such as the Edinburgh Science Festival and the Big Bang Fair, both of which have had a lot of support from arms companies.

Weapons company, Selex, which sponsors the Edinburgh Science Festival, make drones, surveillance equipment and weapons targeting systems. Their products cause death and destruction around the world. Selex say they sponsor the fair in order to 'inspire the potential future workforce', but is this the future children would choose? Is it one that the festival organisers think is appropriate?

Of course there are real funding problems for a number of museums and public institutions, but that doesn't make companies that profit from war any more compatible with their educational objectives. Do these same museums and organisations have guidelines on what companies they would and wouldn't take money from?

Endorsements works both ways and every institution needs to make a choice about who they are happy to work with. When an institution takes money from an arms company they are implicitly endorsing it through association. It's obvious why an arms company like Thales would want to sponsor the London Transport Museum, it's a great museum, but in agreeing to take its money the museum is also promoting Thales.

Disarming our culture

The move towards the use of public institutions to promote arms deals is the latest step in the arms trade's attempts to gain acceptability in the public sphere. Thankfully, not everyone wants to be associated with the arms trade.

Following a vocal and active campaign lead by CAAT, the National Gallery' ended its long-standing sponsorship arrangement with arms company Finmeccanica. For six years it had regularly hosted arms dealers, but the contract was ended one year early and just weeks before the next protest was planned. Similarly, Guildford Cathedral cancelled a Gala Dinner for the Security & Policing's arms fair following concerns raised by CAAT.

The bottom line is that arms companies aren't hiring the rooms of our museums, galleries, and historical buildings because they want to be nice or so that they can support the arts. They are doing it because it's good for their business. By agreeing to these deals, public institutions are supporting the arms trade by giving both practical support and a veneer of legitimacy to an industry that profits from death and destruction.

Arts and history are part of the fabric of our society and are far too important to be used as promotional tools to normalise the arms trade. That is why a growing number of activists are asking them to disarm our culture. 

 

London CAAT has carried out a range of creative actions as part of the campaign to end Thales' sponsorship of the London Transport Museum. The next protest will be outside the museum on Saturday 21 June at 2pm.  To get involved with the ongoing campaign, follow London CAAT on Twitter or Facebook.

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