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The Arms Trade in Our Universities

By investing in the arms trade, Australian universities are undermining the movement towards a nuclear-free world and by extension are a part of the unethical system where companies profit from war. To varying extents many Australian universities invest in and do research for arms creating companies such as British Aerospace Engineering (BAE), Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and The European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS), to name a few.

BAE systems are especially relevant in Australia as they have infiltrated Australian education institutions down to the primary and secondary level, particularly in South Australia. In various universities throughout Australia- including RMIT and The University of Melbourne- BAE systems collaborate to do research relating to the weapons industry. This company is of specific interest as they have been charged with criminal offences and are complicit in war crimes because they sell arms indiscriminately. For example, they have sold fighter aircraft to the Israeli army which have been used in illegal attacks against Lebanese and Palestinian villages. BAE systems have been fined $400 million in charges for criminal corruption for arms deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia (where weapons were used to suppress pro-democracy protests), the Czech Republic and Hungary.

When universities benefit from investments in these companies they are not only complicit in these war crimes and human rights violations, they are profiting from death. Furthermore, they are not investing in sustainable forms of energy, instead continuing to support fossil and nuclear fuelled industries.

What about Monash? Well, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)’s investigation into Australian universities’ investments found that while Monash does not directly invest in any of the investigated companies, they could not confirm that the investments managed externally were in any of these companies. What was found was that one of Monash’s fund managers “MLC Implemented Consulting Ltd.” has investments in several companies known to be part of the nuclear weapon making industry, including BAE systems.

Furthermore, our new Vice Chancellor (as of September 2014), Margaret Gardner is an advisor to the Australian Defence Force and while she was Vice Chancellor of RMIT  strengthened their relationship with BAE systems which sparked protests surrounding their relationship with Israeli military.

In a related protest at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, BAE systems was forced to cancel a student recruitment evening after student protestors announced they planned to disrupt the event. This was just one example of the pressure caused by protest against the company in the UK, which was sparked by their record of selling to human rights abusing countries and the closure of one of their major production centres which caused hundreds of job losses. The Campaign Against Arms Trade Coordinator in the UK, Holly-Rae Smith also argued that “had the government (and universities) been investing in renewable energy and other socially beneficial industries… the local economy would be more diverse, stable and prosperous”. The same could be said for Australia.

Divestment from weapons producers will help to make the production of weapons (particularly nuclear weapons) a more illegitimate industry, as they have intense humanitarian and environmental effects. This can further pressure companies to no longer prioritise weapons production and encourage fund managers to invest in more sustainable and useful industries that do not profit from war.

Thank you to Gabriel Evangelista for inspiring and giving resources for this article. 

Image: War 2 by Carlos Latuff

About Mali Rea

I am a second year Arts student majoring in history and politics. I think it’s vital for students to be aware of any issues that may affect them on a university, state or federal level. I am practically concerned about cuts to education funding which will disadvantage those students who are already in an especially precarious position. However, student affairs goes beyond this to address issues for minority groups of students and the staff of our university as their position directly effects ours.

Mali Rea

The author Mali Rea

I am a second year Arts student majoring in history and politics. I think it’s vital for students to be aware of any issues that may affect them on a university, state or federal level. I am practically concerned about cuts to education funding which will disadvantage those students who are already in an especially precarious position. However, student affairs goes beyond this to address issues for minority groups of students and the staff of our university as their position directly effects ours.

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