An interesting interview tucked away in the business section of the Indy today with Dr David Price, CEO of arms manufacturer Chemring, confirms the problem of abstraction and divorce from commonsense notions of morality (and, in some cases reality) at the upper echelons of the sector.
Dr Price (CBE) who, the profiler states, is a patron of the Royal Opera House and avid Mozart fan and equestrian (which brings to mind nothing so much as the apocryphal tales of SS commandants with a penchant for Mahler and fine wine), heads, in Chemring, a major player in the global arms trade valued at around £1.3bn. Whilst NATO and Western governments remain their primary customers, specialising as they claim to do in primarily defensive technologies (Counter IED munitions and technologies, battlefield illumination and pyrotechnics), Chemring still maintain a major interest in the sale of explosive ordinance, stun grenades and tear gas, with the latter being seen in action in the recent clampdowns in Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia.
The interview, when subject to even a cursory deconstruction provides, however, moments of insight into the minds at work in the higher levels of the corporate arms trade. “Terrorists are very innovative, constantly changing the mechanisms they use to attack us”, Price claims, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, namely that “terrorist” weapons systems and delivery have remained relatively unchanged (Vehicle/Human borne IED’s) for almost a century. As many of the Paris school of Critical Security have argued, the attempts by business interests to reconfigure the discourses of threat in order to create a marketplace for “solutions” which they have the capacity to provide are now part of standard commercial practice within the industry.
Price’s unusal statement regarding Chemring’s development of battlefield “pyrotechnics” for use in illumination also bears repeating: “The type of products we make are a bit like making Mars bars-only using chemical energetic materials of one sort and another…You get a bunch of chemicals and mix them together; make a shape, coat it, wrap it in metal or plastic.” The equating of munitions and weaponised “fireworks” manufacture with confectionary may seem absurd, although it is highly instructive of the moral tenets of late capitalism: “There is no good or bad product, other than that which will or will not sell; that my business constructs, manufactures and sells deadly weapons for use, whereas yours makes chocolate bars is neither here nor there, we are morally equivalent.”
Some of you may think that this is labouring the point, although I do not. The manner in which high level CEO’s discuss their businesses and define themselves is a vital component of the communicative landscape in which they operate. Price further claims that “We’ve probably saved thousands of coalition lives in Afghanistan”, thereby inverting, but perpetuating the Rumsfeldian maxim that “We don’t do body counts”, when referring to those killed in coalition operations. Price’s position, clearly, is that in Chemring’s role a “protector” (i.e. where it’s products are defensive, rather than offensive), the people who matter are not the indigenous population of Afghanistan. Again, this is not to suggest that Price operates as a death-dealing sadist, a cartoon villan laughing maniacally to himself in his boardroom whilst thousands die by his (indirect) hand. Rather, it is further evidence of how the corporate arms industry’s discourse is bound to and reflective of the official state discourse of the War on Terror, the moral vacum which is implicit in free market capitalism is reinforced by successful companies such as Chemring. This is to say that, where laws are followed, and profit is made, this is the “good” operation of the system, regardless of what it is which is making the profit.
It would be absurd to suggest that a 500 word interview tucked away in the business section of a broadsheet should involve the kind of coursucating ethical grilling to which most right minded people would like to see the arms industry subject to on a daily basis, and for discourse analysts and deconstruction, the context of the piece is more illuminating when conducted in this framework. Hostile questioning of those in the arms trade is generally met with walkouts, closed doors and blacklisting for journalists, whilst these kind of pieces can, to an extent, “unmask” individuals involved, where their belief that the discourse is being conducted within their own moral framework (this is to say that of business), their ethical position may become far easier to critique.