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US warship visit: a trade display to boost US weapons sales

US warship visit: a trade display to boost US weapons sales

Valeri Morse

Once weapons were manufactured to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured to sell weapons. ~Arundhati Roy

In a recent poll, many New Zealanders said they were happy for a US warship to visit in November as part of the NZ Navy’s 75th birthday events. But none of these people were told that this visit was actually part of a giant arms fair showcasing 500 of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers.

It would be lovely to think that what was happening in November was an event that signaled a commitment to “Never Again” waging war. Instead, the NZ Navy’s invitation to 33 navies from around the world to come to Auckland must be seen as a kind of runway fashion show for the global arms manufacturers that are both the real drivers and beneficiaries of this stage-managed public relations event.

Critical to understanding the potential US warship visit and the reasons underlying the whole Navy birthday “celebration” is that the US government has reduced military spending by billions of dollars over the past five years. As a result, US weapons companies are looking to do business elsewhere to keep profits high. New Zealand is certainly on the list of willing buyers, with a not insignificant military budget. Much to the surprise of many people in NZ, the government plans to spend $16 billion on the military over the next 15 years – most of it going to the prime contractors like Lockheed Martin, the biggest arms dealer in the world. Lockheed already has a contract for NZ$446 million to simply upgrade the two NZ Navy frigates, Te Mana and Te Kaha. This money is being spent despite a commitment by the government to scrap these ships and buy new ones in a couple of years’ time. As a point of comparison, the upgrade of all existing state houses in New Zealand would be about $1.5 billion.

The list of sponsors for the NZ Navy’s 75th birthday consists of many that directly profit from killing and war: Lockheed Martin, Thales, Babcock, ThyssenKrupp, and Cubic (all in the top 100 international arms companies) along with the NZ Defence Industry Association (NZDIA), itself an industry trade promotion group consisting of another 80-odd members involved in weapons and military-related production.

Moreover, the NZ Defence Industry Association has specifically moved its annual “conference” to Auckland for the Navy’s week of events. This is no coincidence; the Ministry of Defence and NZDF are intimately involved with the conference programme as well. In the NZDIA’s promotional material, the organisers note that they are “further integrating the trade area with the traditional auditorium space…we are having less (sic) presentations… These fewer speaking slots will be held within the Trade Area creating a more dynamic environment where Defence and Industry can network more effectively.” In other words, the flashy fashion show in the form of the Navy’s “international fleet review” goes hand-in-hand with the arms trade fair where dealers sell the “goods” displayed in the show.
While the military-industrial complex is something that has always been ascribed to the United States, the global reach of multinational weapons companies coupled with a desire by the US government to encourage overseas weapons sales to friendly governments means that its influence is felt everywhere. The bi-partisan political agreement between National and Labour on military spending means that substantial profits are sure to flow to weapons dealers for years to come.

The very idea of having a birthday celebrations for the NZ Navy should be cause for considerable skepticism. Why is this something that the country should celebrate? We don’t have events marking the birthday of the National Archives or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, so why is the Defence Force any different?

Moreover, if we are going to mark the history of the NZ Navy, then let us deal with it in an evenhanded way. Depending on your view of history, there may be much to celebrate. Equally well, there are things no one should be proud of, this includes the role of the NZ Navy in escorting US warships into the Persian Gulf in order to invade Iraq in 2003.

So what is the state actually trying to convey by holding this event?

If the point of the NZ Navy’s birthday is to reflect upon the role that the military has played in the history of this country, then surely it should be a deeply somber event that acknowledges the tremendous suffering and horror of war. If it is not that, then it bears no relationship to the reality of war and to the Navy’s own history, and therefore, it must be regarded simply as propaganda intended to enrich weapons dealers, build support for future wars, and recruit young people to kill and die in them.

Given that it is billed a “celebration”, it seems the latter is the case.

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