Is Cameron Planning to Sell Arms to Burma?

By Tim Hardy

“Part of the job of the prime minister is to load up an aeroplane full of business people, large and small, get out exports up, get our investment up, get out there and fly the flag for Britain,” he said.

“That is what I am trying to do this week.”

With these words, David Cameron defended his decision to take arms dealers with him on his trip to Asia.

Last year, as now, Cameron insisted on referring to the people he helps make money selling machines that kill as “business people”. Then, defending his escort of “business people” to regimes in the Middle East that are using British weapons to repress dissent, Cameron retorted:

I simply don’t understand how you can’t understand how democracies have a right to defend themselves.

It’s hard to know where to begin.

In the same way that one feels faced with a monster like Breivik, the natural instinct in the face of such behaviour is to assume that David Cameron is not of sound mind.

Criticised for choosing the time when everyone else was celebrating the promises of the Arab Spring as an opportunity to sell arms to dictators Cameron defended himself:

“Attack all you want, but do you think the Germans and the French and the Americans are all sitting at home waiting for business to fall into their lap? Of course not – they’re out there selling their goods, and so should we in this country as well.

He added: “While there are contracts to be won, jobs to be created, markets to be defended – I will be there. If it’s making sure Rolls Royce engines are in the world’s planes, I’ll be there.”

“If it’s making sure skyscrapers in the Gulf are designed by British architects, I’ll be there. I’ll be there not just because it’s my job, not just because it’s my duty, but because I passionately believe – no, I know – that this country can out-compete, outperform, out-hustle the best in the world and I’m going to make sure I use every last drop of my energy to make sure that happens for our country.”

Sanctimony, to misquote La Rochefoucauld, is the homage vice pays to virtue. As the coyness of “business people” shows – as well as the refusal to wave the flag for sales of weapons, choosing instead to highlight other items in his portfolio – Cameron is aware deep down that what he is doing is reprehensible. As a free-market fundamentalist, however, he lives his life in accordance with the holy writ of the free markets in the hope that the evil he does will one day be absolved in some kind of salvation through wealth.

Today the Guardian reports that Cameron is engaged in a sanctions-busting escort of a group of  what the paper drily refers to as “business leaders” into Burma, disguising them as tourists. Are these “business leaders” from the defence industry? The journalist doesn’t think to ask. Perhaps they are not – but what kind of man mocks the wishes of the international community to pimp British commercial interests to a dictatorship?

Here is what Amnesty says about Burma:

Human rights violations in Burma are widespread and systematic. At the end of 2008 there were more long-standing political prisoners behind bars than at any other time since the mass pro-democracy uprising in 1988. Despite the welcome release of Aung San Suu Kyi in late 2010, and four prisoner amnesties in the last year, it is estimated that over one thousand political prisoners remain.

There are laws that criminalise peaceful expression of political dissent. People are frequently arrested without warrant and held incommunicado. Judicial proceedings against political detainees fall short of international standards for fair trial and torture is common, especially during interrogation.

Despite this, ordinary Burmese people continue to call for democracy. In 2007, mass anti-government protests swept through Burma. However, the uprising was brought to an end in a violent crackdown by the military junta with some activists receiving 65 year jail terms after grossly unfair trials.

When there are contracts to be won, jobs to be created, markets to be defended, who cares about democracy or rights? That’s just more red tape to be swept away in the name of increased profits. After all, according to David Cameron, business is the “most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known.” I’m sure those killed and injured in Bahrain and elsewhere around the world by British-made crowd-control weapons such as teargas and stun grenades would agree.

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