Professor Richard Jackson of Otago University’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict studies has called for a national debate on whether a nuclear weapons manufacturing company such as Lockheed Martin should be welcome in New Zealand.
Professor Jackson was speaking RNZ National’s Sunday Morning host Wallace Chapman following the arrest of 28 protesters at the New Zealand Defence Industry Association’s annual forum – which was sponsored by Lockheed Martin - in Wellington last week.
Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest manufacturer of high-tech weaponry – including the intercontinental ballistic missiles on Trident submarines. And Lockheed Martin’s leading role in the manufacture of nuclear weapons has seen The New Zealand Super Fund rule out investing in the company – which made a profit of more than $3 Billion US dollars last year.
New Zealand Defence Industry Association chair Bernie Diver told Wallace Chapman he saw no conflict between New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance and accepting sponsorship from Lockheed Martin.
“Yes, they have nuclear capability but nuclear capability is managed by government. And it’s our allies: it’s the Americans, it’s the French, it’s the British, so that is a reality but also New Zealand defence environment does not seek, or discuss or even have on the radar anything like that. That is just ridiculous to suggest that the New Zealand Defence Force is having those discussions. What is important is that Lockheed Martin employs 130,000 employees around the world. In New Zealand they support logistics warehousing and so it’s pretty mundane and boring sort of stuff. We as a private sector organisation seek sponsorship from industry and companies who attend our forum.”
He said the industry was responsible for 2500 jobs and $125 million in wages.
Stalls hawking everything from sniper rifles and night vision glasses to military uniforms and engineering services competed for the attention of the more than 550 delegates attending the annual forum at Wellington’s TSB Arena last Tuesday and Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, most of the companies with displays at the forum were offering goods and services with military application rather than weapons.
But there were some weapons on display. Baretta Defense Technologies manager Chris Burton was manning a stall promoting the Sako TGO10 sniper rifle.
Mr Burton said Baretta was looking to work with the New Zealand Army when it releases a request for tender next year.
He said they had been in talks with the army for the last 18 months but the NZDF was still in the process of finalising its requirements.
The next stall along was MAS Zengrange (NZ). General Manager Greg Marsden said the company sold its products to 27 countries but its primary market was other members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (USA, Canada, Australia and the UK).
He said the inter-operability of MAS Zengrange’s artillery, mortar and rocket fire control systems with the armies of the Five Eye nations gave the company a competitive advantage.
James Cook of Harris Corporation was displaying the company’s night vision gear. Mr Cook said he had attended arms conference around the world and this was the first time he had come across protesters. Does he have any sympathy for their message?
“Absolutely I have sympathy for it. They actually should be thanking the guys who are serving right now because that’s given them the ability to do what they’re doing right now with their freedom speech.”
Outside the conference protester Tim Bollinger wasn’t convinced that the arrests of more than two dozen protesters was a great advert for the international arms industry.
“Basically it [the conference] is a weapons conference where a whole lot of international, and local, companies that profit from these weapons and this warfare get together and network.”
Mr Bollinger said he was disgusted by the conference and that the Wellington City Council had allowed it to take place in one of its venues.