William Hague new chair of military think-tank

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/PA in the Guardian

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/PA in the Guardian

A former Conservative Foreign secretary has just become the Chairman of a right-wing military think tank.  William Hague was welcomed into the post at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) earlier today.  Peace activist have frequently said that “foreign policy” all too often means “war”, but this takes the biscuit in terms of career progression.

RUSI is largely funded by the arms industry, taking huge amounts of money from BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Finmeccanica and MBDA Missiles to name but a few sponsors.  These companies sell weapons to many of the countries on a Human Rights Concern list, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and to both sides of Gadhafi’s Libya.

Hague, while no longer an MP, was leader of the Conservatives 1997-2001 and foreign secretary 2010-15 and has shown that his party are rather too fond of the arms industry, subsidising it by £700m a year and ring-fencing the “defence” budget, as well as pledging to renew Trident next year at a cost of £100billion and in breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty the UK signed in 1968.  Part of his role will be to do with the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which many campaigners are pushing to include Trident, rather than have it seen as a separate issue.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph on 31st August 2010 entitled “Human Rights are Key to Our Foreign Policy”, Hague congratulated the British public and Department for International Development on their support for those affected by floods in Pakistan that year.  He said that their response “…confirms something fundamental about our society’s attitude to the suffering of others, whether that distress is caused by natural disaster, state oppression, or conflict.”  Now, he chairs a group which profits directly from this oppression and conflict.

It seems that William Hague has no shame in admitting that his attitude to foreign policy is to arm dictators and lobby for high military spending – taking funds away from what really keeps us safe, such as the NHS and research into renewable energy to prevent runaway climate change.  He is one of many people to have campaigned hard for an end to sexual violence in conflict.  We applaud him for this, but wonder why he’s prepared to compromise his stance against violence by endorsing companies which fuel conflict and corruption and arm repressive regimes.  As foreign secretary, William Hague gave a talk to RUSI in 2013, repeatedly referring to human rights.  Now it would seem that he’s overlooking the role that RUSI’s sponsors play in human rights abuses.

RUSI attracts many current and former foreign secretaries.  Philip Hammond, the current foreign secretary, addressed RUSI this March and in 2012, during his time as “Defence” secretary, was the keynote speaker at their Land Warfare Conference and also their Chief of the Airstaff’s Airpower Conference, both held at Church House Conference Centre, in June and November respectively.  Politicians should not share platforms with arms dealers or, like Church House Conference Centre, allow their reputation to be used to raise the profile and reputation of weapons manufacturers and thus increasing their sales and profits.

Hague’s Telegraph article went on to say, “It is a sad fact that there are scores of countries in the world where human rights are severely curtailed.”  “Sad” is certainly a starting point, but it is not enough to be sad and then to stand by – let alone collaborate – as companies ensure that human rights abuses continue so they can make a tidy profit.  RUSI may not be an arms company itself, but it could not exist without arms sponsorship, and BAE et al sponsor their events knowing that they will ultimately lead to more weapons sales.

FoR is part of a coalition of organisations campaigning for an end to RUSI conferences taking place at Church House Conference Centre in Westminster.  You can sign the petition here.