30 October, 2006

Surprise! Why is England now SUPPORTING the UN's proposal for Arms Control?

The funny pic to get your attention...

Britain, along with the USA, China, Russia, France and Germany, ranks among the largest Weapons Manufacturers in the world. (Brits: are you actually proud of that?) Now that the UN is finally doing the proper thing by legislating for Arms Control, why then has Britain decided to vote ‘Aye’? Isn’t that contrary to its own commercial interests?

Not at all. Britain supports international Weapons Regulations not because it has peace and human rights at heart, but because it figures that’s the better way to suppress growing commercial opposition… the free market for weapons doesn’t suit England any more, now that an increasing number of countries are manufacturing armaments. Being 'top dog' in Weapons manufacturing for the last two hundred years been the 'engine' of British empire.

For some excellent reports on the current debate, I can do no better than to refer you to this page in the Guardian Unlimited, but now I will appear to digress a little…

When in doubt, check History: FP2 casts a backward glance at England’s Ghosts of Christmases Past, the sad and salacious saga of the origins of the British Arms Industry…. (scene dissolves to sepia pictures of sailing ship, and wafting snatches of ‘Rule Britannia’)… fade to a sepia-tinted font and toff-nosed voice-over…)

One of the wealthiest British families of the 17th century was the Evelyn family, populated by a sprinkling of politicians, Knights etc, including the gentle and celebrated John Evelyn the Diarist – although he is less familiar to most than Samuel Pepys. John’s dad and grand-dad had made their massive fortunes – literally – out of manufacturing gunpowder, an invention "borrowed" from the Chinese some time before.

The young John Evelyn basked in his family’s wealth, spending his time designing English gardens in his rambling estates, and becoming erudite about topics botanical. He could tell you about soil structure, how to espalier roses, and (importantly) how to grow trees. He even published a book on tree propagation (“Sylva") at the invitation of the Royal Society. (He also generously funded hospitals for wounded sailors returning from battle.)

The Royal Society, England’s equivalent of L’Academie Française, represented the new cutting edge of Britain’s scientific contribution to the ‘Enlightenment’. If you had Science at your disposal, why not exploit it to get commercial advantage? But why would the Royal Society bother pursuing the young John Evelyn, a gentleman conservationist at heart, to publish information about tree propagation, of all things?

Easy answer. England’s oak forests had been reduced to almost zilch through massive use of timber for housing. No-one had bothered to re-plant the forests because there was no short-term profit to be made by doing so. Suddenly, the Royal Navy discovered it couldn’t get enough oak to build ships and it panicked – the Dutch, Portuguese and French were beating them to East Asia, busily building colonial empires. Solution? Get help to plant oak forests… fast.

In short, it’s safe to say that without John Evelyn’s assistance in re-planting the oak forests of England, there would not have been enough ships to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, the crucial turning point for British sea-power and its subsequent pursuit of Empire.

Painting by T. Allom of an imaginary scene from the British Opium Wars,
in the Golden Triangle Opium Museum, Chiangsaen, Northern Thailand.

Take, for instance, the Opium Wars with China in the 1840s. ‘Great’ Britain was instrumental in creating the ‘Golden Triangle’ by militarily forcing Thailand, Burma and Laos to grow opium on an industrial scale at low cost (ie, Britain=drug producer). Then, using its new-found Naval supremacy, it took over Singapore and Hongkong as "drug forwarding depots" and forced China (against its government's expressed will) to buy opium at inflated prices (ie, Britain=drug pusher). Learn more about the three Opium Wars here.

But without the increase in the number of ships, all the gunpowder in the world would not have helped. As it happens, the combination of ships + gunpowder secured the basis of the world’s largest ever Arms Industry and Colonial Empire, all in the name of supposedly innocent Mother England.

Until now, that is.

Recently, smaller interlopers are emerging in the weapons-manufacturing game, and are getting savvy at skirting the existing ‘regulations’ about selling weapons by exporting the parts only, then assembling them in the countries-of-destination. In a manner similar to the diaspora of nuclear technology, conventional weapon technology is now in the hands of these smaller “Johnny-come-latelys”...and England finds that most inconvenient. And so does the American Gun-Lobby, incidentally.

England realises, however, that it can no longer suppress this 'bottom-up' competition. Therefore, backing the UN’s latest Arms Control proposal is, by default, the next best option. The way would then, theoretically at least, be open to future sanctions against those who would dare compete for its own grisly profits.

OK, let’s see Yahoo try to put me in prison over that. But you can only trust the evidence of your eyes, as in this pic...

PS: Marie is distantly related to John Evelyn the Diarist, but assures me she doesn't have a secret stash of gunpowder under the bed. I'm grateful for small mercies...

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