Between November 17 and 18, Wellington will host 200 of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers at the Defence Industry Association Annual Forum. Despite the PR spin, this 2 day event, more appropriately called a weapons conference, promises to be a bonanza for companies who are in the business of selling products that are designed to kill, maim and destroy.
As one of several New Zealand cities that are members of the ‘Mayors for Peace’ global initiative, Wellington should not be hosting this event – particularly when this year’s principal sponsor is Lockheed Martin. This US-based company is a major manufacturer of nuclear weapons and delivery systems for the US and the UK. It is nothing short of a travesty that Lockheed Martin is being given the red carpet welcome in a city that has prided itself on its nuclear free status for over three decades. And it was only in August of this year that Wellington City Council voted unanimously to endorse a statement by global parliamentarians, Mayors, and religious leaders, calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Lockheed Martin also plies its plethora of conventional military wares to countries with abysmal human rights records. Saudi Arabia, which is currently leading a devastating bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and led to a humanitarian catastrophe, is a major recipient. Lockheed Martin recently obtained US government approval for a US$11 billion deal to sell up to four warships to the wealthy Gulf Kingdom. The company also produces the notorious AGM-114 ‘Hellfire’ missile used in the US drone assassination programme – a programme that has killed and terrorised countless civilians from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa. Another sponsor of the Wellington conference, Canadian company CAE, is responsible for training US drone pilots.
Lockheed Martin’s chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, has suggested that continued “volatility” in the Middle East and Asia make them “growth areas” for the company. It is clear that weapons manufacturers are unashamedly exploiting regional geopolitical tensions to peddle their products and services. They are the unseen actors in conflicts such as those raging across Syria and Yemen, fuelling and profiteering from war and human misery. They are the men (and women) in the shadows. Such merchants of death should have no place in our fine city – or our nation.
Grassroots activists are planning on using nonviolent direct action to delay, disrupt and ultimately stop this year’s weapons conference. They deserve our fullest support.