Is there a review of British arms export licences for Israel?

August 6, 2014

Nicholas Gilby


The current conflict in Gaza is resulting in grievous loss of civilian life. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and around 1,800 Palestinians.  Atrocities have been committed against civilians, almost all by the Israeli Defence Forces (as follows from the above figures), including well-publicised ones condemned by the US Government and UN Secretary-General.

There have been reports in the media that the British Government is “reviewing the sale of £8bn in arms and military goods to Israel to see whether each licence is appropriate in light of the conflict in Gaza”. The Government Department that issues export licences, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is (according to this report) checking whether the extant licences allow the sale of equipment which could be used for “internal repression”, or to “provoke or prolong conflict”.   However, there is nothing about this on the the Number 10, FCO and Export Control Organisation websites.

So what is going on?  In the recent past, export licences already approved and held by exporters have been suspended during moments of crisis.  For example on 21 August 2013 in response to “increasing levels of violence in Egypt”, EU states agreed to review approved export licences.  One week later, the Export Control Organisation suspended all existing licences for equipment which might be used for internal repression to various Egyptian military or security bodies.  On 18 March 2014 the then Foreign Secretary announced the suspension of all licences “for direct export to Russia for military and dual use items destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine”.

What about Israel?  No such announcement has been made, despite the suffering we see reported in the media daily. Read the rest of this entry »

Debate heats up over Killer Robot technology

April 29, 2014

By Ann Rogers, co-author with John Hill of Unmanned: drone warfare and global security

Here is an example of what’s being developed right now. This robot is owned by Boston Dynamics, who’ve recently been taken over by Google.

Sci-fi writer William Gibson said, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” While the idea of killer robots fighting wars or maintaining law and order sounds futuristic, the race to ban autonomous weapons systems before they are distributed to the world’s arsenals is about to get underway. The issue will be taken up later this year by at the Convention on Conventional Weapons, an arms control regime that guides the use of controversial technologies considered “excessively injurious” or having “indiscriminate effects.” Any slow-down on the development of “lethal autonomous robotic systems” (LARS) threatens an industry potentially worth billions – advocates are out in force suggesting that these technologies will make war safer and more ethical. Critics counter that these systems will profoundly alter the dynamics of global security and spur a new arms race, lower the threshold for using force, violate international humanitarian law and undermine the basic ethical precepts that govern how wars should be fought.

The concept of autonomy essentially describes the extent to which a machine is able to reason its way towards problem solving when confronted with uncertainty. In weapons systems, different levels of autonomy exist along a continuum. At one end, “humans in the loop” systems are systems that are controlled – albeit remotely – by someone somewhere. For example, the RAF’s Reaper drones that flew over Afghanistan were piloted from Waddington or from the US facility in Nevada, and it was RAF personnel that chose targets and decided when to fire on them. Further along the continuum are “humans on the loop” systems: in these systems, the machine identifies and selects the targets, but a human makes the decision whether to launch an attack. On the path towards fully autonomous systems, the Rubicon is crossed when the decision to use lethal force is delegated to the machine itself, without any human oversight or intervention. There is a clear military advantage is removing the human entirely from the loop: a human weighing life and death decisions takes time, whereas a machine will simply take action.

While experts suggest that we are still perhaps 20 to 30 years away from developing systems that can identify and kill targets independent of human control, some killer robots are already operating in the field. For example, South Korea has trialled a robot system to guard its border with North Korea. The Samsung SRG-A1 “sentry bot” is a robotic machine gun and grenade launcher system equipped with cameras as well as a microphone and speaker. It can identify and shoot a target from two miles away. How does it distinguish between friend and foe? That’s easy: “When you cross the line, you’re automatically an enemy,” Myung Ho Yoo, principal research engineer at Samsung’s Optics & Digital Imaging Division, explained in a 2007 interview with IEEE. Thus far the system has operated with a “human on the loop,” that is, a South Korean soldier sitting somewhere watching the live feed from the bot. It is the soldier that decides if something is a threat, but having a human make the call is not an operational requirement – it is a political one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Richard Seymour in the Guardian | Global military spending is now an integral part of capitalism

March 10, 2014

Seymour T02680Richard Seymour’s latest Guardian article was published on Friday, in which he argues that the idea of a ‘peace dividend’ is gone, and that high levels of military spending are an entrenched part of the global landscape.

We’ve reproduced an extract below. You can read the whole thing on the Guardian website, by clicking here. For more information on Richard’s new book, Against Austerity (hot off the press this month), go to the Pluto website, or click on the cover image.

Richard Seymour

China’s surge in military spending gains headlines, partly because of the ominous implications regarding its regional contest with Japan, but it’s the deeper structures of military spending in general that are far more compelling.

There are few surprises about the distribution of military spending: for all the current focus on China’s growing military outlays – and it is significant that they have embarked on a sequence of double-digit increases as a percentage of GDP – the United States still accounts for 40% of such expenditures. However, the distribution is not the only thing that matters; it’s the sheer scale of such investment – $1.756tn in 2012. The “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war has long since bitten the dust. Global military spending has returned to pre-1989 levels, undoubtedly a legacy of the war on terror and the returning salience of military competition in its context. In fact, by 2011 global military spending was higher than at any year since the end of the second world war. Read the rest of this entry »

When the arms industry calls the shots, Israel stands to benefit

September 10, 2013

David Cronin, author of Corporate Europe (Pluto, 2013) and Europe’s Alliance with Israel (Pluto, 2010) has written for Electronic Intifada this week about the interconnectedness of his books, and the arms trade’s influence in the politics of Israel (and vis-versa.)

It is a timely piece as London currently hosts DSEi, one of the world’s largest arms fairs, held biannually at the ExCeL exhibition Centre in London’s docklands. We’ve reproduced the article below – alternatively you can check it out on Electronic Intifada, here. For more information on how to resist the arms trade, and specifically the DSEi arms fair, go to


David Cronin

CRONIN T02682There was a time when Israeli diplomats returned my phone calls. There was even a time when some of them granted me interviews.

It was on one such occasion — more than a decade ago — that I listened to Harry Kney-Tal, an ambassador in Brussels for Ariel Sharon’s government, vent his frustration with the European left. Why, he wondered, could pictures of Yasser Arafat often be seen beside those of Che Guevara at political protests on this continent?

Leaving aside the fact that Arafat was a deeply flawed leader, it is not difficult to grasp why symbols of the Palestinian struggle were brandished by radical activists. Palestinians have been treated as pawns in a global power game that has been rigged to allow one nation — the United States — and the extreme version of capitalism it embodies to dominate over everyone and everything else.

I wish that I had delivered a sharp and witty response to Kney-Tal. But I was a lot more confused and reticent then than I am now. I was working for European Voice, a weekly newspaper read by top-level officials in Brussels. Part of my “responsibilities” involved writing articles for supplements financed by the arms industry. I hated being little more than a stenographer to the bloodthirsty and powerful and grew increasingly depressed. Eventually — after five years in the job — I quit.

Since then (2006), I have written two books, with the express intention of discomfiting the elite in Brussels and beyond.

My first one, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, demonstrated that the EU is complicit in crimes against humanity. My new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War examines how lobbyists hired by the super-rich are trying to transform the EU into a carbon copy of the US (by, among other things, destroying or severely weakening social and environmental protections).

Both books are connected. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-militarist newspaper ‘The Newham Adversary’ hits London borough in anticipation of DSEi arms fair this September

August 9, 2013

The anti-militarist newspaper, The Newham Adversary, was officially launched last Saturday, with distribution beginning in the borough of Newham in the run up to DSEi 2013.

DSEi, one of the world’s largest international arms fairs, has taken place in the ExCeL Centre for a number of years, in spite of local opposition and a unanimous vote of condemnation by Newham Council.

Newham AdversoryThe Adversary, produced by the Stop the Arms Fair coalition (STAF), is an important part of anti-arms trade campaigners’ outreach to local residents, providing information about the companies and governments expected to attend, the reality of how deals brokered at DSEi result in political repression, injury and death, and (most crucially) how to get involved in shutting DSEi down.

The Newham Recorder covered the launch of the publication, now in its second edition (the first issue coincided with DSEi 2011) earlier this week. The print run of 3,000 is expected to be handed out outside tube stations near the docklands, as well as being posted door-to-door in the coming weeks.

Pluto is happy to host the PDF edition of the paper on this blog. Simply click the banner below. For more information about how to get involved in shutting down DSEi, go to the Stop the Arms Fair website.

Adversary Banner

The Adventures of Melanie Pax – anti-militarist comic strip

November 2, 2012

Good afternoon, radicals and book-lovers…

Thought we’d give you something a little different today. Here at Pluto we’re not just passionate about books, but about all sorts of things. Lucky for us, those of us interested in politics and activism get to create lovely books during the day that we want to cosy up with at night. I just finished reading Donny Gluckstein’s A People’s History of the Second World War, which was ace. and I’ve now moved onto Nick Robins’ Corporation that Changed the World and Alice Rothchild’s Broken Promises, Broken Dreams. (Even better, I get to read them for free because I work here…)

But we also like to share free things with others too. I recently spent a couple of weeks toiling away on a comic strip for Stop the Arms Fair coalition – a campaigning group that is filled with amazing people doing wonders to try and shut down the arms trade and its biannual presence in London’s Excel Centre, (the DSEi arms fair.) We’ve now got hundreds of copies printed on nice recycled paper, thanks to the legends at Calverts Co-operative. But why not share it more widely, I thought? So here it is, a FREE comic strip that’s GUARANTEED to be the most ATTRACTIVE PROPAGANDA you’ve ever seen… and if you’re not immediately convinced of the merits of anti-militarism, why not check out Vijay Mehta’s book, The Economics of Killing as well…



National Gallery ends financial partnership with Italian arms company Finmeccanica

October 12, 2012

Disarm the Gallery: A lovely tale of campaigning success

Chris Browne

A couple of days ago I left for work early, cycling with my friend in the tepid autumn sunlight to Abney Park Cemetery in North London. Outside my work at Pluto I occasionally take photographs of things for campaigning organisations, and both my friend and I have been involved for the last year or so in ‘Disarm the Gallery’ – an offshoot of the larger Stop the Arms Fair Coalition (STAF).

We’d made a pit-stop at Abney Park on my usual cycle through Stoke Newington, with our panniers containing my camera and a few home-made zombie limbs – papier-mâchéd and painted green, their humorously skeletal fingers protruded out of our bags, inviting double-takes from bus drivers and pedestrians making their way along Church Street.

Walking through the cemetery, which is the overcrowded and overgrown resting place of nearly two-century’s worth of political and religious non-conformists, we pitched up at a number of particularly choice gravestones and plonked the zombie arms into the earth in a series of different poses. The idea was to take pictures of zombies rising up out of the ground, ready to join the ranks of the righteous, anti-militarist undead who were planning to swarm on the National Gallery at Halloween. The anti-militarist undead would be the giddily excited (because facepainted), but nonetheless pissed off activists from Disarm the Gallery. The pictures were intended as social media buzz-generators for what promised to be the latest in a series of creative, high profile actions against the Gallery because of its links to the arms trade.

A little context then. The campaign’s genesis was in September 2011, during last year’s DSEi arms fair, when arms dealers were invited to a special event inside the National Gallery, where wine and nibbles would be consumed in opulent surroundings, and perhaps deals might be discussed. They didn’t know we knew about it and so we had a lot of fun on the day. However, it later transpired that this was no one-off liaison between one of our most famous public institutions and the nefarious, venal world of gun-running.

Finmeccanica, Italy’s largest arms manufacturer, had at that point nurtured a 5-year old relationship with the Gallery, where it gave them an annual £30,000 in exchange for the use of the Gallery as a function space throughout the year. Disarm the Gallery’s intent was to embarrass and shame the Gallery publicly until this relationship became untenable. In March a number of us had dressed up in stereotypical French painter garb (think berets and paint-covered smocks) and spelled out the message ‘disarm the gallery’ across 18 identical easels. Some clever people even made a video of it.

On a later day of action, small groups of us broke off inside the Gallery and wrote similar messages on sketch pads in the larger rooms, then donned the same berets – by now an entrenched visual signifier of our group – and held up our messages until security kicked us out.

The zombie demo was going to be the biggest and best action by far. We’d heard that Finmeccanica were hosting an event in the Gallery on October 31st. Made ebullient by the fact that this most sinister of industries was turning up on Halloween, of all days, we had quickly waved away any lingering concerns about the doubtful connotations of invoking the ‘undead’, and shoe-horned the fun, if not-quite-relevant idea of a zombie protest onto the agenda. There would be choreographed ‘Thriller’ flashmobs, hoards of groaning, staggering protesters outside the gallery, and (we hoped) lots of media ready to lap up the highly visual escapades.

Our sojourn into Abney Park was, it turns out, time wasted. By the time we got home I’d whittled the number of potential images down to about 20 and was about to edit them when I heard the brilliant news.

Though they were still embargoing it at this point, the Alternative Nobel Prize winners, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) had got an email from the National Gallery telling them that their long-standing sponsorship arrangement with Finmeccanica had ended, over a year early. The next day the press-release went out, with the sad caveat that there would be no mass mobilisation of the undead on October 31st:

A Gallery spokesperson told CAAT that Finmeccanica had “exercised their right to terminate” the agreement, but refused to disclose what discussions had preceded this decision.

Italian weapon manufacturer Finmeccanica has been one of the National Gallery’s ‘corporate benefactors’ since 2006. The contract was due to run until 1 October 2013.

In the wake of this campaign victory (what a beautiful word that is…), Sarah Waldron, a member of Disarm the Gallery who works at CAAT, gave me the following quote:

This was such an inspiring campaign to be part of: it was a fantastic joint effort with so many different groups and individuals coming together with passion and creativity. We’re glad that this energy and commitment has paid off – with a result that we hope will form an important part of a wider challenge to the arms trade in society and will help other campaigns against unethical corporate sponsorship in the arts. This is only the start!

Shiv Malik also wrote a piece in the Guardian last night, highlighting the campaign’s success.

Leaving aside the disappointment of the cancelled demo, there are some serious reflections to be made. At a time when the government continues to slash and burn all that’s best in our society; when corporate and political unaccountability runs rampant; when what little hope we kindle of our own democratic power to right such monumental wrongs seems all but spent, a win like this can’t be overestimated.

The sums of money involved – £30,000 a year – may seem scant compared to the money Oil continues to pump into the arts, and positively minuscule when we step back and examine the scale of corporate/political incest, but it is a decisive moment in our history. It is a moment when another finger was prised away from the arms trade’s iron grip on its own public image. It is a moment that will reverberate along the corridors of power where men make decisions they would rather others didn’t scrutinise. Most of all it is proof that together we can say No to something, and if we persist that ‘something’ will stop.

We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves of course. This is a stepping stone, and a victory that will allow us to refuel our batteries and stave off burnout for another year. In 2013, DSEi, the world’s largest arms fair, is returning to the Excel Centre in London. Here the world’s most repressive regimes will come to strike deals with companies only too happy to sell them weapons. And it is here that we focus our attention once more. This is a much more formidable opponent, but there is surely a great deal more conviction and hope floating around today than there has been for some time.


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