The American political activist and journalist Chris Hedges believes that corporate executives, and the ‘armies of bureaucrats’ and ‘careerists’ which serve them, are ‘cold and disconnected’, ‘docile’, ‘compliant’, and ‘assure themselves of their own goodness through their private acts as husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers … It is moral schizophrenia. They erect the walls to create an isolated consciousness. They make the lethal goals of ExxonMobil or Goldman Sachs or Raytheon or insurance companies possible’.[i] Erich Fromm’s classic 1956 study The Art of Loving argued that capitalism – and, we might add, the arms trade – ‘needs men who feel free and independent, not subject to any authority or principle or conscience – yet willing to be commanded, to do what is expected of them, to fit into the social machine without friction; who can be guided without force, led without leaders, prompted without aim – expect the one to make good, to be on the move, to function, to go ahead’.[ii]
Joining one of many such armies, University College London Provost Malcolm Grant visited the Arab Spring nations with David Cameron in 2011 to (primarily) sell arms during the ongoing forms of state terror. Grant’s decision followed an interesting and remarkable history, little-known on UCL’s campus today and rarely discussed at the time.
After a two year student campaign, on January 1st 2009 UCL implemented an ethical investment policy, ensuring divestment from the arms firm Cobham PLC, a major supplier of Israeli arms and whose Hellfire missiles were regularly used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cobham also manufactured parts of weapons system used by Israel in its bombing raids in Lebanon in 2006. After a freedom of information request revealed that UCL had £900,000 invested in Cobham (total assets invested: £92.3m; arms shares as percentage of total investments: 0.9) and £746,000 invested in Smiths Group (which contributed to the manufacturing of Apaches and F16s), the ‘Disarm UCL’ campaign was formed, which rapidly became extremely popular on campus, both with students and later with the university’s ethical investment review committee.[iii] The university even ran a unique, exciting degree course for students to take, an MSc in Systems Engineering Management, ‘a joint development between BAE SYSTEMS and University College London to produce a programme which combines academic rigour and practical experience in the Aerospace and Defence Industry’.[iv] Extracting this from the standardised and scrupulously misleading rhetoric of ‘excellence’ and so forth, this translates into ‘a course which funnels resources and ingenuity straight into the coffers of a private arms manufacturer’. UCL soon became known as ‘the Gower Street gunrunners’, and Disarm UCL campaigners were often seen in the Main Quad on campus. Around the same time, St Andrews, Goldsmiths and SOAS all made steps towards cutting ties with the arms trade. With UCL’s admirable history of opposing discrimination, its strong funding of human rights abuses came as something of a surprise to students and faculty. The university also seems to be regressing on a number of other fronts, failing to take action to stop modern-day slavery conditions in its international campus in Qatar, where migrant workers are paid less than £180 a month for 12-15-hour shifts and endure persistent human rights violations.[v]
In late May 2016, a Freedom of Information request of mine about UCL’s connections with the arms trade was been published.[vi] Despite the university implementing an ‘ethical investment’ policy from 2009 onwards as a result of Disarm UCL’s efforts, this only relates to stocks and shares and it currently seems to apply far less stringent ethical criteria when deciding on research and consultancy contracts, enjoying links with a large number of the UK’s (and some of the US’s) arms companies. The response to the FOI request was given by Spenser Crouch, Data Protection & Freedom of Information Administrator at UCL. Crouch’s response included funds received over the last five financial years from arms organisations. In addition: ‘Non-MoD funders include overseas Governmental Defence Agencies, notably Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). For example the DARPA make up 50% of the non MoD-related income reported here, however £1.25m (70%) of this is for research into brain function relating to injury recovery’. Finally: ‘The data covers 126 projects (including Mod-related), 57% of which are studentships. Studentships account for 55% of the MoD-related income overall, and 15% of the income from the other funders including the large DARPA projects’.
The files revealed that from 2010-15, UCL had received over £1.3m from the Ministry of Defence and related departments for various projects, with £340,000 coming from the Atomic Weapons Establishment, £880,000 from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and £70,000 from the MoD.
During the same period, UCL received an astonishing £3.6m from the arms trade, bringing the total military-related funding to £4.9m. More worryingly, the amount has in fact increased annually from 2010, beginning at £623,000 in 2010-11, then rising to £881,000 in 2011-12, £1.02m in 2012-13, £1.14m in 2013-14, and £1.28m in 2014-15. The companies funding the university include Aeroflex, Airbus Defence & Space, Airbus Weapons Establishment, Babcock, BAE Systems (including BAE Systems Marine Ltd, BAE Systems Surface Ships Ltd), BMT Defence Services Limited, EADS, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce Power Engineering, Thales (including Thales Uk Ltd, Thales Netherland B.V.), and TRL Technology. From 2010-15, UCL received £195,000 from BAE Systems, £1.8m from DARPA, £67,000 from Airbus, £19,000 from Halliburton (which works closely with the arms industry), £236,000 from Lockheed Martin, and £625,000 from Thales.
The FOI request included the following statement: ‘I would wholeheartedly encourage the university to adopt an ethical investment policy that excludes the arms trade, and would appreciate it if you could tell me if this is something that the university is working towards’. UCL’s response included no comment to this effect.
As countless other examples reveal, the modern university is concerned above all else with profit, and is more than willing to align itself with abusive regimes and rogue corporations, supporting unethical firms through investment, research, recruitment and inviting representatives to give talks on campus. Universities are increasingly becoming militarised spaces. University career services – those stale and intensely unhelpful entities – promote arms companies and invite them to careers fairs, ‘advising’ students away from applying their skills in more ethical, renewal job markets. Universities invest their financial reserves and endowment funds, either by buying shares directly or investing in funds. Through either of these means, their funds are often invested in arms companies, supporting them financially while also giving the arms trade something of a ‘social license’, since universities are typically well-respected (quasi-)public bodies.
Not only does investment in the arms trade have nothing at all to do with education, but ethical investment funds have been shown to be more profitable. Throughout the 2000s, the Church of England’s £4.3 billion ethical fund was the second best performers out of over 1,000 funds.
New paper published in Biolinguistics on the nature of pragmatic unarticulated constituents and the syntax-semantics interface.
“This paper explores the prospect that grammatical expressions are propositionally whole and psychologically plausible, leading to the explanatory burden being placed on syntax rather than pragmatic processes, with the latter crucially bearing the feature of optionality. When supposedly unarticulated constituents are added, expressions which are propositionally distinct, and not simply more specific, arise. The ad hoc nature of a number of pragmatic processes carry with them the additional problem of effectively acting as barriers to implementing language in the brain. The advantages of an anti-lexicalist biolinguistic methodology are discussed, and a bi-phasal model of linguistic interpretation is proposed, Phasal Eliminativism, carved by syntactic phases and (optionally) enriched by a restricted number of pragmatic processes. In addition, it is shown that the syntactic operation of labeling (departing from standard Merge-centric evolutionary hypotheses) is responsible for a range of semantic and pragmatic phenomena, rendering core aspects of syntax and lexical pragmatics commensurable.”
The Cameron government is continuing to sideline itself from mainstream public opinion, which is strongly in favour of ethical investment in green technologies and divestment from firms involved in human rights abuses. It announced earlier this month that a further £12 billion would be invested in defence through cuts to the police, business grants and welfare. Part of this investment will be in 24 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The total cost of these new jets is approximately $1.45 trillion. Perhaps an argument (admittedly a grossly ideological one) could be made in favour of this investment if the jet proved successful, reaching new frontiers of technological advancement. Yet the F-35 currently cannot even fire its own 25mm cannon until 2019 as a result of software issues. Tom Cahill from U.S. Uncut describes the investment as ‘the epitome of Pentagon waste and cronyism’, with the US having already spent over $400 billion on the jet, supporting the private profits of Lockheed Martin. Even more perverse is the fact that the cost of the useless F-35 is equivalent to providing free tuition for higher education for every student in the US until 2039. But Cameron and Obama’s priorities are clear: private profit for state-backed arms firms trumps all potential public good.
The recent spending increase moved the defence budget to a projected £178bn from 2015-2025, some of which will be spent on nine Boeing maritime surveillance aircraft to rival what the Financial Times called, with intense Second Cold War hysteria, ‘a potential Russian submarine threat’. Pluto Press’s 2016 volume The Secure and the Dispossessed edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes counters this kind of machismo ‘defence’ mindset by pointing to numerous cases where the military and private arms firms are having a major, devastating effect on climate change, both in terms of stirring class and economic divisions and also in the way they fuel global conflicts which ensure public money and innovation is directed away from green issues.
With the passage in October 2015 of UN resolution 2249, ‘unequivocally’ condemning Isis, Cameron’s defence and interventionist priorities are becoming much more acceptable in the Commons, despite impressive opposition from Corbyn. When Cameron announced his grand strategy for Syrian intervention today, he failed to make explicit how exactly UK bombing raids would be more effective than the existing French and US strikes. This was a particularly urgent point to address considering Airwars’s estimate in August that over 450 civilians (including over 100 children) had been killed in US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Airwars pointed to a ‘worrying gulf between public and coalition positions’, with a number of large-scale Stop the War Coalition demonstrations in the UK throughout the summer and winter months having received overwhelming public sympathy in the face of the establishment’s martial antagonism. Even Mike Flynn, a prominent US general, has claimed that ‘drone strikes have created more terrorists than they have killed’.
Even more remarkable was Cameron’s claim to have a legal case for legitimising foreign strikes against Syria. While he briefly seemed to acknowledge that last week’s UN resolution did not have Chapter 7 status (ensuring that it cannot be used in favour of foreign strikes), Cameron invoked a self-defence argument, despite the fact that self-defence can only be used against an imminent or actual threat from a foreign state, not terror group. Cameron simultaneously argued to be putting a ceasefire and intervention on the table, even though airstrikes will stymy ceasefire negotiations, not encourage them. The prime minister also failed to respond to questions about the likely effects to national security military intervention in Syria will have, no doubt forgetting that Britain’s intervention in Iraq dramatically escalated the threat of terror attacks.
The Guardian’s response to Cameron’s strategy was to mildly object to prolonged (not short-term) intervention, and to define serious objection to military involvement simply as political ‘point-scoring’, rather than a genuine objection to the prime minister’s faux humanitarianism. Owen Jones made a few of his typically bland comments about how bombing Syria would be really unfair and mean while objecting to no specifics, Mary Dejevsky gave Cameron credit for proposing ‘a wider strategy’ post-intervention, while Martin Woollacott claimed that the aim of foreign military engagement was ‘worthwhile and the motivation eminently understandable’. Rafael Behr soberly discussed the ‘complex and potentially open-ended’ nature of the conflict, before suggesting committed military engagement since it’s ‘obvious’ that ‘the UK can contribute more than goodwill in the fight’.
Not discussed by either Cameron or the bulk of the liberal media was the possibility of arming the highly successful Kurdish army in their struggle to reclaim land of theirs lost to Isis. The arms trade, as usual, also went unmentioned, despite UK sales to the Gulf dictatorships like Saudi Arabia fuelling the export of Wahhabism. There was no mention that business with the Saudis will contribute to human rights abuses or the exporting of extremist ideologies (according to David Gardiner at the Financial Times, ‘Saudi Arabia not only exports oil, but tanker-loads of quasi-totalitarian religious dogma and pipelines of jihadi volunteers’). Instead, the Cameron government claims that trade will help Saudi Arabia overcome the problems brought about by its rapidly growing population, expected to increase to 29 million in 2020 from 28 million in 2015.
Forcing Russia to end its rampant airstrikes against Syrian civilians, perhaps via some form of Magnitsky Act, is also a viable, peaceful alternative to drone strikes, as is pressurising Turkey to prevent its borders being used to supply arms to Isis. Labour’s new economic strategy, ethically investing in science, technology and green industries, will also serve to politically demonise the arms trade, as will Corbyn’s anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist foreign policy, which places heavy emphasis on engagement, dialogue and negotiation via the UN in an attempt to remove the reputation of a rogue state which Britain quickly garnered during the Iraq War. None of these options are particularly extreme or unreasonable, and all of them could be brought to the centre of parliamentary discussion – if the public pressure arrives to place them there.