A Call to Arms
The military intervention in Libya is a far cry from the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq. This time round all the right checkboxes were ticked. An appeal for help from the rebels was heard, the approval from the Arab League was sought (never mind that most of the 22 members are repressive dictatorships), the approval of the United Nations was granted, and it was a genuine coalition of forces from NATO that struck. The first assault, while overwhelmingly comprised of US armed force, included or was soon followed by attacks from some of her European allies. The British initial offensive was carried out by Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon jets. These latter were made by British Aerospace, or BAE Systems, Europe’s biggest manufacturer of weapons.
Times are tough for this gigantic “defense contractor”. There is too much peace around, apparently. And the economic crisis has meant that governments like that of Britain have announced cuts in military spending, which is of course bad for BAE and its shareholders. The company recently projected an expected downturn in profit for 2011. Last year their turnover was 22.39 billion pounds (over 36 billion dollars). But you never know. There is always hope that more wars will break out. And apparently India has an arms shopping list of 100 billion dollars, to be spent within the next ten years. So that sounds hopeful, but of course competition is stiff. Which means BAE is willing to look everywhere and everyone for customers, even Libya’s Gaddafi.
Earlier this month in fact, Barack Obama approved a sale by BAE’s American subsidiary of 77 million dollars worth of military equipment to Libya. That’s right folks, you heard me: Obama approved a sale of military equipment to Libya just a few weeks ago. Sell weapons to Gaddafi at the start of the month, bomb him at the end of the month – how’s that for a foreign policy? Believe me, I’m not making this up.
But American arms sales to Gaddafi are dwarfed by those of the Europeans. In fact in 2009 European sales of weapons to Gaddafi were ten times those of the USA – the biggest deals have gone to French, Italian and British (BAE) companies. All of these states were involved in the military intervention this week. When Tony Blair made his infamous visit to Gaddafi in 2007, one of many visits he made to the dictator on behalf of British business, he was accompanied by Guy Griffiths, CEO of MBDA Missile Systems, a company partly owned by BAE. Gaddafi was the man who, according to a British court, had organized the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 109 with the consequent loss hundreds of innocent lives. But that didn’t stop Blair from shaking hands with him already in 2004, indeed embracing him. All for the good of British businesses, like arms manufacturers. And when Prime Minister Cameron decided last week to bomb Libya, he first conferred with Ian King, CEO of BAE Systems. Their willingness to do business with anyone, their ability to supply both sides in the conflict means these guys literally get it both ways.Continued on the next page