Paul Foot

‘Argies’ with British guns

(7 November 1996)

From Socialist Worker, 7 November 1996.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000), pp. 168–169.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Remember the Scott inquiry? It may seem like a long time ago, but the report of the Lord Justice (now promoted to Vice-Chancellor) was published only seven months ago.

Many curious facts emerged from the Scott hearings about the way we are governed. But perhaps the strangest of all was that armaments which were ostensibly made to protect Britain and to defeat Britain’s enemies were being sold hand over fist to a country which became Britain’s enemy.

The contradiction was brilliantly exposed in the role of a single person: a Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Glazebrook. Glazebrook’s job at the Ministry of Defence was to make sure that weapons and machinery were not sold to anyone who might use them against Britain.

Glazebrook constantly found himself in a minority of one in the Ministry of Defence committees which decided what should be sold. These committees were entirely dominated by representatives of the arms companies ‘regional marketing directors’, as they were called – which used their majorities to call the tune.

Scott’s recommendations were intended to make absolutely sure that this sort of thing never happened again.

Well, here we are, seven months later, and what is happening? A couple of excellent Channel 4 Despatches programmes reveal the astonishing fact that Argentinian warships are powered by British made engines whose spare parts have recently been made readily available.

Can this possibly be right? Is Britain equipping the hated navy or the ‘Argies’ – the same navy which surrounded the Falkland Islands in 1982, and whose General Belgrano was so heroically sunk with 300 dead more than 200 miles outside the ‘exclusion zone’?

Total ban

Margaret Thatcher regarded her victory over Argentina as the high peak of her time in Downing Street. Immediately afterwards she slapped a total ban on every export to Argentina which could be regarded as military.

For years their ships had been bought from and powered by British shipbuilding and engineering. The nastier the Argentinian dictatorship, the more readily the British government, including the Labour government of 1974–79, sold it warships, equipped them and repaired them.

Desperately, the Argentinian naval command set up factories across the Western hemisphere to make the spare parts required for the British engines – parts which were denied them by the patriotic fury of Mrs Thatcher and her acolytes.

Then, suddenly, the picture changed. In 1995, Rolls Royce, whose engines still power many Argentinian warships, approached the British department of trade. The Argentinian navy, they whined, was begging for vital spare parts to keep the ancient engines going. Please, please could they break the rules and sell the parts?

The DTI agreed almost at once.

This was happening at the very time that Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade, was defending the government’s record during the Scott inquiry and, in the process, jeering at the last Labour government for selling arms to Argentina!

As we sit back and enjoy what will certainly be another government embarrassment about this, we can reflect upon the real lesson: the extent of corporate power.

From time to time, capitalist greed for profit will be reined back in the interests of ‘the country’ or ‘the military’ or even by parliament.

But, in the end, the representatives of capitalism are more powerful than parliamentary democracy or patriotism, and will find a way to shrug off both so they can make profits.

Last updated on 30 June 2014