Peace and church-related organizations are expressing “delight” at the impending closure of Britain’s prime arms exports promotion organization, following an announcement by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a written statement to the House of Commons.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), along with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and SPEAK (a network of young evangelical social justice activists) have long called for the push of weapons around the world through the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO) to be ended.
Fellowship of Reconciliation England director Chris Cole said: “We are especially thinking of one of our members, Mary Ann Ebert, who faithfully took part in vigils outside DESO every Friday for many, many years until her death in 1998.”
FoR, CAAT and SPEAK handed in a petition calling for the closure of DESO signed by 10,000 people in March 2007. Many Church leaders also signed up to FoR’s campaign on this issue.
Whilst the Fellowship, an association of religious peacemakers, believes that this is a significant step on the way to ending the arms trade – and the shocked reaction from BAE Systems and the Defence Manufacturer’s Association to the closure indicates what a major step it is, they say – it stresses that “the campaign to completely end the arms trade will of course continue”.
FoR’s Chris Cole said “We have been pressed by our partners is areas of conflict to try to stem the flow of arms from Britain and we believe that the closure of DESO will have a real and significant impact on the UK arms trade.”
He continued: “We wait to see the details of what will happen after DESO closes but we are delighted that our message that pushing arms around the globe does not bring peace and security is finally being heard and we thank everyone who has supported this campaign.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has also welcomed the Prime Minister's move, pointing out that it marks the end of a government unit whose sole purpose is to promote sales for private arms companies, despite being funded with taxpayers' money.
CAAT says it hopes that with the closure of DESO, the undemocratic power of arms companies in the UK will be brought to an end.
Whilst applauding the announcement, CAAT made clear that it would closely monitor the implementation of the plans. CAAT insisted that military exports, which form less than 2% of total UK exports, must not use a disproportionate amount of the resources of UK Trade and Investment, which is now taking responsibility for them.
CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said: "The closure of DESO is good news for Britain's economy, democracy and security. For 40 years, DESO has used taxpayers' money to promote vested interests, sold weapons with no regard to human rights and endangered the UK by harming its international reputation. Gordon Brown must ensure that DESO's closure is the first step towards ending the unhealthy influence of arms companies within government."