Musings on the Trident issue: arms conversion – the transfer of resources from military to civil use

Few people will have done more work in the field of arms conversion than Steven Schofield*. He writes:

“Arms conversion, broadly defined as the transfer of resources from military to civil use, has a long historical pedigree dating back to biblical times. Turning swords into plowshares remains one of our most evocative images of peace, reflecting the universal desire to bring an end to war and to use skills for productive rather than destructive purposes”.

He recalls the post WW2 rapid restructuring of the economy when the UK and the USA demobilised millions of armed forces personnel and transferred millions of workers from military to civil production and points out that such a profound transition is not required in today’s circumstances:

“Although arms production is important in particular niches of manufacturing, it is marginal to the national economy in terms of output and employment. Should there be an unfortunate and unintentional outbreak of peace (sic), the impact of job losses would be relatively short-lived, and focused on only a few localised concentrations of arms employment such as Barrow-in-Furness, in Cumbria.

“Now, however, the sectors in which the specialist arms corporations might look for similar work, eg, civil aircraft, communication satellites, cruise ships, etc, already have mature civil markets served by companies that operate with a distinct set of advantages over any arms company attempting to develop products for those markets”.

Expanding on one theme which was touched on in another blog, he points out that steel, coal, textiles etc, have seen far greater job losses and serious dislocation for local communities and a range of policies have been brought into play to help localities diversify their employment base and reduce dependency on any one particular sector, albeit with varying degrees of success.

And on another theme – that of vested interest – he writes: “Nor is there any real enthusiasm and support for conversion in the trade unions, despite the occasional resolution at national conferences in favour. Instead, they have been some of the most effective lobbyists within the military-industrial complex, arguing for the retention of jobs in the arms sector and promoting all the various military white elephants like the aircraft carriers, the new Astute nuclear submarine and, of course, Trident”.

In similar vein to Jeremy Corbyn, Schofield looks for a government which will signal fundamental changes in the economy through its own research and development and procurement priorities: “Conversion then could be seen both as an investment function and as part of a new security paradigm, releasing scarce resources for new industries that will provide both employment and guaranteed, indigenous sources of energy supply. A government investment pool of £40-50 billion from cuts to military spending over a five year period would be a substantial contribution towards to generate electricity from renewable sources and as a stimulus to further investment by companies with a commitment to the range of renewables manufacturing and support services in the UK”. He concludes:

“As to the big arms production and research and development facilities, the priority should be a speedy closure and dismantlement. This would include the shipyards in Barrow and Glasgow, the aircraft manufacturing around Preston, the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and the Devonport dockyard, with only a residual public investment for care and maintenance and decommissioning. Where those sites can be used for alternative activities, the land should be released as soon as possible and a range of policies for diversifying local economies put in place. But there should be no special consideration over and above what would normally be put in place for mainstream, local regeneration programmes. Some localised job losses are unavoidable, but assuming that macro-economic policies are in place to support these new industries, overall manufacturing employment will increase and those areas should be in a position to attract their share of work”.

Steven Schofield: January 2011. See the full report here: http://neweranetwork.info/reports/arms-conversion-%E2%80%93-a-policy-without-a-purpose-dr-steven-schofield-jan-2011/

*Steve Schofield completed a doctorate on arms conversion and was co-founder of the Project on Demilitarisation in the 1990s. His most recent publications include Trident and Employment: The UK’s Industrial and Technological Network for Nuclear Weapons(Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 2007); Making Arms, Wasting Skills : Alternatives to Militarism and Arms Production(Campaign Against the Arms Trade, 2008) and Local Sufficiency and Environmental Recovery (Local Economy Journal, Vol 24, No 6, November 2009, pp 439-447). He lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

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One Response to Musings on the Trident issue: arms conversion – the transfer of resources from military to civil use

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