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Nuclear Free Scotland Ocotober 2005

PRIVATISING DEFENCE

As in other sections of the economy, the defence services have been subjected to a wave of outsourcing and privatisation. Over the past 10 years the trend has been to contract out to private companies many of the jobs previously done by the military. The huge increase in private security firms, many of them British, which are enjoying a bonanza in present-day Iraq, has already been documented. Over 10,000 personnel employed by them are now in Iraq as well as scattered across the world. Less well known is the steady increase in the private sector in Britain itself. As of March 2002 forty five PFI deals had been signed bringing £2.3 billion of private sector capital investment in defence, with at least £7 billion more in the pipeline. The deals vary from the provision of unit housing for soldiers and their families, to training the crews of submarines, providing tank transporters to carry tanks to the battlefield and building 6 RORO ferries in support of Joint Rapid Reaction Force deployments.

More importantly, major military bases and research facilities have been systematically put up for auction. The Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston and its partner site at Burghfield are now man

‘by 2002 forty five PFI deals had been signed with at
least £7 billion more in the pipeline’

panies - British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), Lockheed Martin and Serco. The Devonport nuclear dockyard, which is currently refitting Trident submarines, is owned and run by Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s former company). In Scotland, Rosyth Naval Base is now owned and managed by Babcock International, a British company with a turnover of around £26 million. In 2002 Babcock also took over many of the functions at the huge Faslane Naval Base. It now manages all engineering work on submarines and minor surface warships, provides hotel accomodation on site and runs three naval messes catering for up to 2500 sailors each day. In addition it operates the Faslane ship-lift. At nearby Coulport it operates the explosives handling jetty for loading and unloading Trident warheads as well as providing cleaning services, grounds maintenance and radioactive waste processing.

Many of the other bases and military research facilities in Scotland were handed over to Qinetiq in 2001 as a Public Private Partnership project. Qinetiq advertises itself as a defence and security technology company which is keen to do business across the world. In December 2002, Britain’s Defence Minister Lewis Moonie announced that the government had found a strategic partner in the form of the Carlyle Group to help run the new firm. The Carlyle Group now owns just over one third of Qinetiq as well as several defence and technology companies in the US. It is extremely well connected to the Bush administration and the Republican right. In Scotland Qinetiq manages a string of bases

and research facilities across the country (see Fortress Scotland for a full list).

‘private security firms are enjoying a bonanza in present day Iraq’

The rapid penetration of the private sector into all areas of the defence industry and the operations of the armed forces reflects the growing influence of neo-liberal ideology in all sectors of the economy. The myth of public bad, private good has become the New Labour mantra. Yet in health, education and social provision, there is good evidence that PFI has proved much more expensive than its public sector alternative, has required major cuts in service provision and has failed to transfer the risks to the private sector. Now for the first time in the history of the modern nation state, governments like the US and UK are surrendering one of the essential and defining attributes of statehood, the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In the past, the private sector profited out of building the materials of war. Today, it also trains all types of service personnel, including the armies of foreign powers, and provides huge numbers of private soldiers for combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties. In time of war, non-military personnel working for private companies now operate the sophisticated weapons and control systems aboard US battleships, B-2 stealth bombers and Predator drones. With that

ministers participate in ‘champagne brainstorming roundtables’ and ‘Belgian beertasting evenings’ with CEOs from the same companies which are bidding for PPP/PFI projects. They co-present ideas and papers to ‘defence partnership’ conferences. MoD personnel are frequently on the receiving end of corporate hospitality and, on retirement, can land lucrative directorships with the same firms. The methods may be more subtle and the bribes less crude, but this cosy relationship ensures that, at the end of the day, senior civil servants and ministers are caught in the sticky web of corporate lobbyists and arms salesmen and their integrity and independence compromised just as easily as if they were Saudi arms dealers taking huge bribes.

Indeed, corporate lobbying by defence-related companies takes place at all levels of the government, the MoD and the armed services. BAe Systems chairman (until August 2004) Dick Evans and Tony Blair were described by BBC journalist Will Self as having an ‘intimate relationship’ and with the former having unrivalled access to the British Prime Minister. This has since been confirmed by former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in his book ‘The Point of Departure’ where he wrote: ‘In my time I came to learn that the Chairman of British

‘Control of war and foreign policy is steadily slipping away from elected and accountable government’

Aerospace appeared to have the key to the garden door to number 10. Certainly I never once knew Number 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to British Aerospace’. And how that unrivalled access to the Prime Minister’s ear has paid dividends. Time and again the government has intervened using the full power of the British state to support, promote and, on occasion, cover up arms sales. Its global network of embassies and defence attaches as well as the visits of government ministers, MoD officials and even Royal Family members are widely used to promote arms sales. Add to that BAe’s boast of commanding the loyalty of at least 200 MPs, its membership of several domestic and international lobbying groups, the huge hidden subsidies in the Export Credit Guarantee arrangements which underwrite British arms contracts across the world and the support for arms sales given by the Defence Export Services Organisation, and you can get some idea of just how easily the arms industry has bent the Blair government to its will.

US-based. Control of the state instruments of war and foreign policy is steadily slipping away from elected and accountable government into the hands of a ‘defence partnership’ where the real strings of power are pulled by powerful corporations based in London and New York.

So far there has been no public debate about this large scale erosion of our democratic rights and sovereignty. The peace movement has a prime responsibility to publicise the extent of private sector penetration and kick-start that debate.
Alan Mackinnon

 

 

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