There’s blood on their hands

Local writer Kaya Purchase explains why she feels Liverpool should cancel the European Electronic Warfare Convention

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“[Our message] in Liverpool today is let’s turn the corner, learn the lessons of the past, let humanity prevail, the arms fair be cancelled and let’s start […] the walk down that road to a more peaceful, more just world.”

These were the words that Jeremy Corbyn addressed to a crowd of demonstrators gathered in Liverpool for the Stop the Arms Fair protest on 11 September. The protest was organised to oppose the Association of Old Crows’ (AOC) European Electronic Warfare Convention, set to take place in the city’s ACC Exhibition Centre on 11-13 October.

Local campaigners have formed a coalition to stop the event on the basis that many of the arms companies invited to attend have track records of gross human rights violations. On 11 Sept, people from all over the country joined local campaigners in what became a crowd of over 3,000, marching through Liverpool’s streets and demanding that the fair be stopped.

Speeches took place atop a fire engine, with Maxine Peake yelling a rousing spoken rendition of Edwin Starr’s War (What Is It Good For?), followed by former Green Party leader Natalie Bennet’s urgent plea to “stop making nukes and support our NHS instead”.

Liverpool-born former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “I am angry that the traders in death and destruction and human suffering think that they can […] besmirch the reputation of our city. There is blood on their hands.”

Max Steinberg, chair of the ACC venue, has defended the fair by presenting it as an opportunity for specialist speakers to “provide insights into subjects […] at the forefront of technological advancements in defence and security”. He has also said this event will “not be transactional”.

To present the technology to be exhibited at this fair as a means of defence distracts from the fact that it is is often employed by repressive regimes

Firstly, to present the technology that is to be exhibited at this fair as a means of defence and security distracts from and denies the fact that it is often employed by repressive regimes and authoritarian governments to target civilians. There are countless examples of this, but the history of just one of the proposed exhibitors will illustrate the point.

Leonardo co-developed T-129 helicopters with the Turkish government, which were then used by Turkey to aid their crippling, discriminatory military operations against the Kurdish people. It also boasts of a four decade-long relationship with Saudi Arabia, notorious for its decimation of Yemen. Leonardo is part of the consortium that builds the Eurofighter Typhoon, which has been used for the past six years in devastating attacks on Yemen.

Secondly, although they may not be literally transactional, the networking that this event allows does lead to future transactions. According to the AOC’s review of a previous convention of its that took place in Sweden, nine out of ten of the exhibitors who were there “reported that their return on investment met or exceeded expectations”. It cannot be disputed that the purpose of this fair is to generate profit for arms companies. Otherwise there would be no real incentive for them to attend.

In a statement about the fair, rapper, campaigner and political thinker Lowkey said: “When political figures from Theresa May to Rishi Sunak to Ben Wallace to Tony Blair and the grandsons of Winston Churchill are either connected to or were employed by companies which directly benefited from the occupation of Afghanistan, we have to question who are their constituents. Are they us out here or them in there?”

To emphasise security and defence as a justification for the arms trade supports a nationalistic lens when thinking about warfare, a mindset that we need to keep the rest of the world out in order to protect our own people. When one reflects that the UK government is actually culpable of supporting and often encouraging the violation of humanitarian law in order to profit from conflict in areas across the world, then one realises that an internationalist outlook is actually essential for global survival.

We need to care about civilians across the world more than pleasing our own ruling powers because foreign civilians are not the threat – our own politicians are. Liverpool is an international city with its iconic waterfront, globally influential music scene and its multicultural community. It is also a city that prioritises supporting its own over loyalty to governments, because it knows what it feels like to be scorned, mocked or erased by politicians.

This is why it is foolish to pick this thriving, vibrant, defiant city as a location for a fair that punishes global citizens to benefit those in power. Everyone should be aware that Liverpool of all places will not give up without a fight.

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