A Nonviolent Campaign Against War Profiteers

At the War Resisters' International Council meeting in Ohrid in June 2004, the possibility of a WRI campaign against war profiteers was one important part of the discussion on the new nonviolence programme. Many War Resisters' International affiliates work on issues related to war profiteers - such as the War Resisters League with its "Stop the merchants of death" campaign, or Forum voor Vredesactie in Belgium - but the debate also showed that war profiteering is an issue which is difficult to define.

War profiteering: Iraq

At the World Social Forum in Mumbai in February 2004 - about 1 year ago - Arundhati Roy called on us to "become the resistance to the occupation". She went on: "I suggest that (...) we choose, by some means, two of the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We could then list every project they are involved in. We could locate their offices in every city and every country across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them down. It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question of the desire to win."

So far, a variety of groups focusses attention on the US company Halliburton, which is one of the main contractors of the US military and the US government in Iraq. According to Corporate Watch, "the biggest windfall in the invasion of has most certainly gone to the oil services and logistics company Halliburton. The company, which was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, has won over $8 billion in contracts in in 2003 alone."

In Britain, Windrush Communications is one of the targets, as Windrush organises the Iraq Procurement Conferences, where contracts to plunder Iraq are negotiated. A variety of campaigning and action groups is involved in activities against the "plunder of Iraq", among others Voices in the Wilderness UK.

War profiteering: beyond Iraq

A brainstorming at the Council meeting showed the variety of companies/agencies involved in war profiteering: weapon manufacturers and arms dealers, war lords and states, the media, reconstruction companies (such as Halliburton) and the "humanitarian aid industry", facilities management companies, private military contractors (mercenaries), financial institutions (banks), and raw material companies (oil, diamonds, minerals, etc.). This variety poses a challenge: what should be the focus of an antimilitarist campaign against war profiteers?

Most people felt that weapon manufacturers and arms dealers are dealt with by often very professional campaign against arms trade - in Europe mostly by groups affiliated to ENAAT (European Network Against Arms Trade). It was also felt that a focus on Halliburton as a US company will make it difficult for non-US groups to develop their own local campaign.

While mercenaries - private military contractors (PMCs), as they prefer to call themselves - are the most scandalous part of the spectrum, many of the companies involved do not provide any other services, and the companies generally are not visible in public. Following down the "tip of spear" typology (see graphic), military consulting firms and military support firms are often companies also involved in other public spheres. According to P.W. Singer, the main difference between "military provider firms" and "military consulting firms" is "the 'trigger finger' factor; the task of consultants is to supplement the management and training of client military forces, not to engage in combat." Military support firms "provide rear-echelon and supplementary services. Although they do not participate in the planning or execution of direct hostilities, they do fill functional needs - including logistics, technical support, and transportation - critical to overall combat operations that fall within the military sphere." (P.W. Singer, in International Security, Vol 26, No 3, winter 2001/2002) Examples for military support firms are Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Roots (KBR), Sodexho (a French company providing catering and other services for many Armed Forces - especially the USA and UK).

In addition to these areas, private companies play an increasing role in running military facilities (such as Serco in Britan, or the Serco, Lockheed Martin and BNFL joint venture that runs AWE Aldermaston, the UK nuclear weapon factory), and in financing military equipment. Lex Defence is one major UK player, which - according to their website - "provides a unique range of skills and services to support the vehicle fleet requirements of the British Armed Forces around the world. Lex Defence is currently responsible for over £1billion worth of MoD contracts, managing over 13,000 vehicles on behalf of the MoD, and is one of the largest suppliers of vehicles, fleet management and logistic services to the Defence Logistics Organisation."

A nonviolent campaign against war profiteers

War Resisters' International started to discuss war profiteering as a campaign at its Council meeting in Macedonia in summer 2004. It was clear that as an international pacifist and antimilitarist organisation, the focus on war profiteering needs to go beyond Iraq, and also beyond the issue of profit.

For war resisters, war profiteering is wrong not because it generates profit, mostly for private companies, but because it is one of the causes of war. The antimilitarist demand is not "take profit out of war", but to denounce war profiteering because "war is a crime against humanity" (WRI declaration).

However, the challenge for the WRI network will be to develop a common campaign which allows for a different local/regional focus under a joint slogan, and maybe under a joint logo too. The development of such a campaign against war profiteering will be one important aspect of the nonviolence programme.

War profiteering provides a crucial link between economic globalisation and militarism/war. A WRI campaign against war profiteers can highlight these links, and combine them with clear antimilitarist messages, which go beyond a economic critic of globalisation.

To get involved in the development of this campaign, contact the WRI office.

Andreas Speck

Web Resources:

http://www.warprofiteers.com - Website by Corporate Watch US on war profiteers, provides company profiles and news, mostly from a US perspective (little about non-US companies)

http://corporatepirates.gzzzt.net/ - Information on the week of action against the Iraq Procurement Conference. The week of action will take place from 1-6 April 2005

http://www.voicesuk.org - Voices in the Wilderness UK. Information on the occupation of Iraq, and profiteering from the occupation.

http://www.antenna.nl/enaat/ - portal of ENAAT, with news and links to European campaigning organisations against arms trade