Liverpool Says No to the Arms Trade

Next month, the European Electronic Warfare Convention is due to take place in Liverpool – but the city's residents are sending a clear message: arms dealers and warmongers are not welcome in Merseyside.

Protestors in September 2020. Credit: Liverpool Against the Arms Fair

Liverpool campaigners have formed a coalition to push back against plans to host an arms fair at the city’s ACC Exhibition Centre between 11 and 13 October. The campaigners have created a petition to have the fair cancelled, and have so far gathered over 5,500 signatures. On Saturday 11 September, there will be a national protest taking place in the city with Lowkey, Maxine Peake, and Jeremy Corbyn among those in attendance.

The European Electronic Warfare Convention, organised by the Association of Old Crows (AOC), will include representatives from government, business, the military, and academia. AOC Europe has described the event as an opportunity to ‘exchange ideas, develop relationships and showcase a range of high-tech electronics.’ They have assured those opposing the fair that all participants and attendees have been fully vetted and that the event is in line with international law. While the event itself may be lawful, though, several of the companies on the list to attend the event have a history of violating international obligations.

The law of war, for example, proscribes deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure. Raytheon, which ranks fourth in SIPRI’s 100 top arms companies, manufactured the Paveway IV bombs and exported them to Saudi Arabia. They were then used by the coalition to decimate civilian economic structures such as factories, farms, and power stations in Yemen. A Human Rights Watch report on coalition airstrikes found that all of the strikes that occurred between March 2015 and February 2016 were conducted unlawfully. They were responsible for a total of 130 civilian deaths, and 171 civilian injuries. 2,500 people lost their livelihoods.

A Paveway IV bomb was identified at one of the bomb sites, and it was confirmed that it had been manufactured in May 2015 after the start of the assaults on civilian structures. To supply weapons to a country knowing that that country is culpable of brutal disregard for civilian life constitutes a violation of the Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty states that large companies have a responsibility to not provide military equipment and services to countries where it is likely to be misused for human rights injustices.

Unfortunately, this is a responsibility that is often completely disregarded. According to the Guardian, two thirds of the countries with the most deplorable human rights and civil liberties records have received arms from the UK in the past decade. The façade of morality that the UK government displays is so flimsy that the tiniest tug will tear it away and reveal a host of incidents of gross misconduct.

The supply of arms to countries with poor human rights records is not just a breach of international regulations. It is also a political statement of support for dictatorships, corruption, and inhumane leadership. This, by extension, is the political statement that Liverpool’s ACC and council will be making if they allow arms companies to showcase and promote their technology on their waterfront.

Here are just a few examples of links to disreputable countries and repressive regimes out of the arms companies attending the AOC convention. Qinetiq provided arms to Saudi Arabia, Textron to both Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, Teledyne to both Israel and Afghanistan. L3 Harris provided arms to all three, as well as Libya. Elbit Systems is Israel’s leading arms manufacturer, and their weapons have been used to aid their relentless occupation of Palestine. In addition to this, Leonardo (run by MDMA, which is known to have supplied arms to Gaddafi) has a history of providing equipment for border control in Italy and Libya, profiting off the refugee crisis.

A spokesperson for the Exhibition Centre has responded to criticism by stating that the ACC Liverpool Group which manages the centre ‘exists to create economic benefit for the city of Liverpool,’ but at what cost? This seems a short-sighted justification in a city with a history of profiting off slavery. The threat this will pose to future tourism by affecting Liverpool’s current reputation as a city with liberal, socialist values is sure to be a cause of concern, even on a purely financial level. On an ethical level, financial benefits lose all appeal when one considers the city’s multicultural population. Some currently living in Liverpool will have been directly affected, or have friends and relatives directly affected, by the violence the arms trade perpetrates.

The AOC have stated that this event will ‘allow them to review the latest advances in electromagnetic and information-related fields.’ Such language may be less likely to inspire outrage than terms such as tanks, guns, and missiles, but it’s important to note that such technology is just as life-threatening, and capable of just as much damage, as bullets and bombs.

Electromagnetic spectrum operations equip drones to track down phone signals linked to people believed to be enemy combatants. This can lead to the wrong person being targeted in the not unlikely case that a mobile phone has been loaned to a friend or relative. Such operations are also used to disconnect telephone, internet, and radio access, disrupting medical and rescue services and food deliveries. The term ‘information-related fields’ applies to, among other things, Information Operations. This is used by authoritarian regimes to control information distribution for the purposes of spreading propaganda and suppressing dissent. Sometimes it is used by countries such as the UK and US to suppress democratic movements in other countries.

Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson has responded to resistance from local people by signing her name to a letter, along with over sixty other councillors, expressing her disapproval of the event. She described herself as a ‘pacifist’ and said that she was ‘appalled’ at the ACC’s plans. Despite this, she has also claimed that she is powerless to stop the fair from taking place. Chief Executive, Tony Reeves has supported the Mayor’s decision, emphasising that it is not possible for the council to interfere with the ACC’s plans since although the venue is owned by the council, it is run by a separate entity.

It appears the council is reluctant to get involved because they don’t wish to face financial implications, but campaigners are refusing to back down. The council’s impotence has been disputed by Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), which claims that Anderson’s refusal to interfere in the plans is actually an ‘unlawful delegation of powers.’ Campaigners now wish to not only put pressure on the ACC management board, but to make the Council wield its influence as sole shareholder in ACC Liverpool to stop the fair and institute an ethical policy for ACC to prevent future immoral situations.