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Dodgy Dealings in Nottingham

Have you ever thought where your tuition fees may be going or whether our humble institution invests with a moral compass in hand? Can we, as students, be sure that university business deals are made in the best interests of society or is the less than certain financial future of the University of Nottingham fueling unethical dealings?

Perhaps we should start with a well-known debacle; that of the 2001 donation by British American Tobacco (BAT) of around £4m to develop the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Many academics were furious at the University accepting investment from a fundamentally unethical industry. The donation led to a high profile resignation at the British Medical Journal and condemnation for appearing to legitimise an industry responsible for five million deaths per year. The business ethics of the University were thus called into question, but it wasn’t until 2007 that another unethical practice emerged.

If you can, cast your mind back to March of that year: a group of students plastered in blood and holding placards hold a ‘die-in’ outside the Portland Building. Most of us walk by and don’t take a second look. Perhaps this is our nature now, the sheer quantity of protests at Nottingham seem to have diluted their messages, warping each protest into a long-haired hippy-fest, with the same people guarding every picket.

It appears that we should have taken notice of the hippies’ cries “stop Nottingham’s involvement in the arms trade” as the University’s investments affect war in both an indirect, and – as Impact can exclusively reveal – a very direct one.

1994 to present has seen a partnership between the University of Nottingham’s School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering and BAE Systems. The relationship has been instrumental to the development of MEMS Gyroscopes and has generated plenty of revenue for BAE. According to the services for business website (http://nottingham.ac.uk/servicesforbusiness) these gyroscopes are “utilised in a multitude of different applications, including high performance navigation systems and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems in cars.” What they fail to mention, however, is that these very devices developed at Nottingham are a core component in munitions guidance systems.

Take for example BAE’s Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System’s (APKWS) 2.75-inch guided rocket, which has just entered its final testing phase with the US Navy. The APKWS uses the SiIMU® inertial measurement unit which contains the aforementioned MEMS Gyroscopes. According to BAE, the system has also been sidelined for other weapon programs such as Excalibur XM982, NLOS-LS (Non Line of Sight-Launch System), C-KEM (Compact Kinetic Energy Missile), and JCM (Joint Common Missile).

The University’s involvement with BAE Systems runs deeper than this though, freely available figures show that in 2007 Nottingham University had around £250,000 invested with them. The company is currently under investigation for several offences by the Serious Fraud Office, relating to bribery running into hundreds of millions – most notably in the £43bn Al Yamamah arms deal. Couple this with numerous questionable activities such as supplying corrupt and murderous regimes, and we start to uncover a truly malevolent organization. Obvious questions therefore arise about our financing position with them.

In purely investment terms we must turn our attention to a firm with which our institution entrusts vast amounts of capital, Barclays Global Investors (BGI). BGI (recently rebranded BlackRock) appear to be involved with a more sinister part of the arms trade. In a report in 2008 which had access to the Amadeus and Orbis databases detailing financial institution investment agreements, BGI were slated for investing over £80m in Textron who produce cluster bombs, an exceptionally inhumane form of munition. BGI also invested around £34m in Lockheed Martin who, not unlike BAE, have had various brushes with serious fraud and controversy. Most conspicuously, Lockheed were outed in 2004 for interrogation contracting at Abu Ghraib and the Bagram Theater Internment Facility where two civilian prisoners were chained to the ceiling of their cells and beaten to death.

Before you go and bang on the door of the Vice Chancellor though, we also place considerable investment within the Newton Investment Fund, which has an exceptional track record in corporate responsibility, so it’s not all bad…

Until the University is completely open about their dealings, we cannot be completely sure as to the full extent of our involvement with contentious firms. But for the moment, think twice about the chaps that swan around in the Trent Building, knowing full well that they are at the helm of an institution very much involved with the Arms Trade.

John Amble

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9 Comments on this post.
  • paul
    12 January 2010 at 10:29
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    “Couple this with numerous questionable activities such as supplying corrupt and murderous regimes”

    Please provide proof about your claims.
    All BAE Systems contracts are government approved, and are not sold to countrys with questionable activities.

  • AH
    12 January 2010 at 12:21
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    very interesting, i wonder how long it will take the university to contact you over this !

  • B
    14 January 2010 at 13:46
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  • B
    14 January 2010 at 13:49
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  • Dave Jackson
    14 January 2010 at 15:05
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    An interesting further discussion would be to what extent we can hold arms companies to account for the actions of those who buy their weaponry. Do guns kill people, or do people kill people? Do we hold kitchen cutlery companies responsible when their knives are used in crime, for example?

    A counter-argument to this is that arms industries should be seen in a different sense – in knife crime, you could argue that the manufacturers did not intend for the products to be used in that fashion, while arms industries know that their weapons have a high likelihood of being fired in anger (although I might question that, what about manufacturers of nuclear weapons?). To go down this road, however, leads to the more general question of whether arms industries are, by default, ‘bad’. Anybody who believes that the existence of armed forces is necessary must surely accept that this is an absurd idea. If armed forces must exist, then they require weapons which are capable of killing people, and companies like BAE provide such things.

    Let’s not forget either that arms industries provide employment to a significant amount of people, including many graduates. Two of my best friends are now receiving a large amount of assistance in university fees after doing a year in industry at QinetiQ, giving them engineering skills that they can apply to many different jobs, not merely in arms. Such companies often make things which see a lot of utility in civilian applications, too. The Global Positioning System was originally put up there because of its uses in targeting nuclear weaponry, for example.

    That’s not to hide from the fact that, fundamentally, companies like BAE produce things which are designed to harm and kill people. However, it isn’t enough to say that arms industries are unethical purely because they produce weapons and – by extension – that the University of Nottingham is indulging in unethical practices purely by involving themselves in what is a massive technological industry. It’s quite the stretch to go that far.

    As Paul points out, BAE’s arms sales are approved by our government. A better way of seeing, say, the Al Yamamah agreement, might be to see BAE systems as a contractor employed by the government to provide the goods to be sold to the kingdom. If we think such countries are ‘corrupt and murderous regimes’, we should blame our government for authorising (and in many cases, encouraging) such trade deals, and not the businesses that facilitate those deals.

    As a sidenote, I think we’ll find a fair few people who disagree with the assessment of Saudi Arabia and Israel as ‘corrupt and murderous regimes’. There may well be justifications for saying so, but that’s probably an article in and of itself and certainly can’t be taken for granted. I will confess ignorance when it comes to a detailed discussion of Indonesia and East Timor.

    So, if we aren’t criticising BAE for the current political zeitgeist’s insistence on the existence of national militaries, and also accept that the responsibility for whom to sell to lies with the government and not the industries who provide the goods, are allegations of corruption and bribery enough to legitimately label BAE (and others of their ilk) as ‘truly malevolent’? I’m not so sure, and even then, does any of this rub off onto the UoN?

    If it comes to taking a particular side, I’d hope that the University would choose the one which involved enhancing its research opportunities and maintaining some kind of status as a preferred research partner with one of the UK’s biggest exporters. Not only does it encourage investment in the university, but it doubtless enhances university students’ employment prospects with such companies – which, after all, is what the university should be here for.

  • Better weapons?
    14 January 2010 at 19:23
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    To follow on from Dave’s point…

    The sales of arms should be monitored and strictly moderated according to guidelines so that weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorists or regimes who will use them for genocide etc.

    This moderation should be done be separate entities, (we shouldn’t rely on arms companies to self moderate). Whether the government are the right people to do this and the exact standards they should have is another matter.

    One of the goals of arms manufacturers is to make better weapons capable of killing people more efficiently.

    In a legitimate war, it is reasonable to aim to use weapons which effectively target and kill only the intended people. This will cut down on collateral damage, ie civilian deaths, reduce the risk of friendly fire, and reduce the danger to the troops firing them as their opponents are less likely to be able to retaliate. To give an example, a war might be being fought against an enemy who are using buildings in close proximity to schools and hospitals to house their forces. If the decision is made for tactical bombing, then ideally, the strike will be as accurate as possible, so as to only hit the intended buildings and not any civilian ones.

    Technologies such as advanced guidance systems and video linkups on weapons allow more accurate strikes and reduce the chance of unwanted casualties. In this way, building advanced guidance systems can be seen as a good thing.

    However, the use of cluster bombs, land mines, napalm and other weapons which are less discriminate in whom they kill should be discouraged.

    The UK have signed but not ratified the Dublin Convention on Cluster munitions which, once 30 states who have signed it ratify it, will make the use of cluster munitions illegal for all those who have signed it.

    See here http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVI-6&chapter=26&lang=en and Wikipedia for more on this.

  • sam
    17 January 2010 at 20:08
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    I agree with the above comments…put simply, higher efficient weapons will mean wars are over quicker with less casualties. Also the knowledge of the technology may stop us being caught out when the technology is used by malicious organisations.

  • Alex
    28 January 2010 at 16:15
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    Research into weapons has nothing to do with their accuracy and making sure “wars are over quicker with less casualties”. This is two fold. First, from the perspective of the military, read some military documents: new weapons have everything to do with their effectiveness rather than their accuracy and prevention of casualties – their ability to subdue the enemy at almost any cost is what is the primary aim. It is about strategic advantage, not some warm fuzzy wuzzy humanitarian end. Second, from the perspective of the arms company new systems are designed to become market leaders, and with the ability to win contracts by appearing, among other things, innovative. Hence they too are not concerned with accuracy primarily, but in achieving the goals of the military which is strategic advantage, and achieving this with the minimum of cost to the researchers, and maximum profit. And, lets face it, these weapons are not accurate. Take the case of Pakistan where UAVs enjoyed bombing such targets as a “wedding” and a “graduation ceremony”. Obama’s first act as president was to kill some

    While for propaganda purposes, governments love to tout the accuracy of their weapons, this is merely a PR exercise. Commanders know well that in fact, it is actually a pretty effective way of winning a war to start killing civilians and hence demoralising the soldiers fighting by breaking their spirit and moral, horrid as it is. Remember shock and awe? The point here on the surface was to say that shock tactics were more “peaceful” as they convinced surrender by simple “fireworks”, always missing that these fireworks, often the wholesale destruction of infrastructure mask the suffering this causes, which is not humane at all. See http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Shock_and_awe

    As for the remainder of arguments above, I don’t have the time to go through them all, but I wil add this. Of course we should blame our government as well, as almost all anti-arms people already do. But this creates a false binary whereby the arms companies don’t have massive influence on the government and that a properly powerful government could easily administrate the arms industry. Fact is that the sheer money power and economic interests vested in the arms industry always place the government in a subservient role, more often than not being the avatar of the arms companies in international negotiations under the guise of serving the interests of “British business”. In short, a more complex political economic understanding is required than lumping all the blame on the government – in the old days we used to call this the military industrial complex, an analysis, pace Adam Curtis, which still is very persuasive to my eyes.

  • Alex
    28 January 2010 at 16:16
    Leave a Reply

    Research into weapons has nothing to do with their accuracy and making sure “wars are over quicker with less casualties”. This is two fold. First, from the perspective of the military, read some military documents: new weapons have everything to do with their effectiveness rather than their accuracy and prevention of casualties – their ability to subdue the enemy at almost any cost is what is the primary aim. It is about strategic advantage, not some warm fuzzy wuzzy humanitarian end. Second, from the perspective of the arms company new systems are designed to become market leaders, and with the ability to win contracts by appearing, among other things, innovative. Hence they too are not concerned with accuracy primarily, but in achieving the goals of the military which is strategic advantage, and achieving this with the minimum of cost to the researchers, and maximum profit. And, lets face it, these weapons are not accurate. Take the case of Pakistan where UAVs enjoyed bombing such targets as a “wedding” and a “graduation ceremony”. Obama’s first act as president was to kill some

    While for propaganda purposes, governments love to tout the accuracy of their weapons, this is merely a PR exercise. Commanders know well that in fact, it is actually a pretty effective way of winning a war to start killing civilians and hence demoralising the soldiers fighting by breaking their spirit and moral, horrid as it is. Remember shock and awe? The point here on the surface was to say that shock tactics were more “peaceful” as they convinced surrender by simple “fireworks”, always missing that these fireworks, often the wholesale destruction of infrastructure mask the suffering this causes, which is not humane at all. See http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Shock_and_awe

    As for the remainder of arguments above, I don’t have the time to go through them all, but I wil add this. Of course we should blame our government as well, as almost all anti-arms people already do. But this creates a false binary whereby the arms companies don’t have massive influence on the government and that a properly powerful government could easily administrate the arms industry. Fact is that the sheer money power and economic interests vested in the arms industry always place the government in a subservient role, more often than not being the avatar of the arms companies in international negotiations under the guise of serving the interests of “British business”. In short, a more complex political economic understanding is required than lumping all the blame on the government – in the old days we used to call this the military industrial complex, an analysis, pace Adam Curtis, which still has persuasive power to my eyes.

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