Merchants of Death Conference

By Richard Sanders | 1989-12-01 12:00:00

October 24 was chosen as the first day of Disarmament Week by the United Nations at its First Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. Canadian arms industries, however, showed disregard for the U.N.'s disarmament efforts by holding their annual conference in Ottawa between October 25-26.

The Financial Post organized this "Merchants of Death" conference with the aid of some military publishers. It attracted about 400 of Canada's leading players in the international arms trade and some of their counterparts from Europe and the USA.

The "Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade" (COAT), which had organized a campaign against ARMX '89, demonstrated and portrayed the "Grim Reaper" in street theatre, depicting the true nature of their conference: "Reaping Profits with Grim Consequences."

The entrance fee - $550 - in effect closed it to the public. What I know about the conference comes from three main sources: 1) mainstream media accounts (very limited), 2) reports in military and arms industry publications (very biased) and 3) conference materials which I excavated from waste baskets under registration tables (very interesting!).

One of the speakers was Dietrich S. Buehrle, a convicted felon. Buehrle, chairman of Oerlikon-Buehrle Holding Co., based in Zurich, Switzerland, had been convicted of selling military equipment to South Africa.

He was following in his father's footsteps. Emile George Buehrle, founder of the Oerlikon-Buehrle Machine Tool company, was blacklisted for selling armaments to Nazi Germany during the Second World War. In 1971 Dietrich Buerhle was in the Swiss Supreme Court, admitting responsibility for Oerlikon's illegal sales of arms to South Africa, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia and Nigeria. It was revealed that "$21 million worth of arms had been illegally exported by Oerlikon-Buehrle, including $12.1 million to South Africa....all exported through the simple device of forging the 'end use certificates' which were supposed to guarantee their destination" (Anthony Sampson, The Arms Bazaar, 1977 p. 340).

Dietrich got off easy with a suspended sentence, a fine, and three years probation. Three other company officials went to prison. An experts' report demanded "more effective controls, [but also] reported that a ban on exports would put up the costs of weapons by sixty-five percent, and would endanger the home industry. Oerlikon remained intact, and the exports continued to rise." He was forced to resign from the board of a Swiss bank and from his commission as a full general in the Swiss army reserve. However, when the directors of his own arms company told him to resign as president, he held his ground by instead firing or demoting them.

He said, "I personally don't bother myself with the unresolvable debates over what constitutes offensive or defensive armaments. Who is to say what is war materiel? A button on a soldier's uniform could be construed to be war materiel. In my mind the only question is, to whom do I sell the stuff? My answer is, no one who could be a potential aggressor against Switzerland. In practice, this means that I do not deliver arms to the Warsaw Pact nations. But I am prepared to talk to prospective customers from the rest of the world. I can truthfully say that I sleep well at night" (from a wire service article by David Tinnin for Time Inc., Fortune, July 2, 1979). In the "Speakers' Biographies" of the conference, the entry for Buehrle makes no mention of his criminal past.

Another even more valuable source was found - a wad of business cards which were discarded after the conference. According to a note also found in the waste basket, these cards were used in a draw for a "very attractive prize." (The cards are themselves a very attractive prize for this peace activist.) Together with the "Delegate List" they provide a virtually complete view of who attended the conference.

Of the 170 arms companies cited in the "Delegate List," 10 are American, 2 Swedish, 1 British and 1 Swiss. The remainder are Canadian. However, at least 50 percent of Canadian military industries are owned by foreign, mostly U.S., parent companies. The business cards indicate the presence of representatives from other international arms companies from: the Israeli Supply Mission, France, and West Germany.

According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen (Lacasse, Oct. 25, D12) two "key issues" of the conference were how industries will cope with the prospects for peace and Canadian military "cutbacks." The Citizen article begins: "Peace can be bad for business, at least for firms in the defence industry. 'It's depressing. Peace has broken out all over,' said one man talking on his cellular phone during a break." Despite the horrible threat of peace, Henry Dodds, editor of Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review reassured the audience: "Paradoxically in these days of glasnost and improving relations between East and West, we are probably closer to war in Europe than we were, say, 10 years ago." (Can't you just hear the sighs of relief that must have filled the conference hall at this prediction?)

Paul Beaver, editor of Jane's Defence Data, called the cutbacks in Canadian military spending part of a disturbing "world trend." "Everyone," he said "is suffering from reduced military spending." (Can't you just hear the multitudes of sick, starving, and homeless, crying out to their governments to buy more weapons?)

Know Anybody Here?

I have organized the names of the guest speakers into 5 categories.1) Presidents of Major Weapons-Systems Producing Companies: Commander (ret.) Keith Davies, Pres., SFI Toledo Thomas McGuigan, Pres., Litton Canada Norman Smyth, Pres., Thomson-CSF Systems Canada Wm. Tate, Chairman, Allied-Signal Aerospace Canada Dieter S. Buehrle, Chair., Oerlikon Buehrle Holding AG Switz. Marco M. Genoni, Pres., Oerlikon Aerospace Robert Marcille, Vice-Pres., Indal Technologies Inc. Wm. Rhoton, Vice Pres., Defence Industries, United Research Wm. Coyle, Dir. of Major Programs, Allied Signal Aerospace, Garrett Canada John Simons, Exec. Vice-Pres., Can. Marconi Co. 2) CEOs of Military Industry Assns. Lt. Gen. (ret.) Kenneth Lewis, President, Aerospace Industries Assn. of Canada Brian MacDonald, Dir., Atlantic Council of Canada 3) Chief Executive Officers of Military (and Business) Journals: Henry Dodds, Ed., Jane's Soviet Intelligence Rev. Paul Beaver, Publisher, Jane's Defence Data, U.K. Neville Nankivell, Publisher and Ed.-in-Chief, The Wednesday Report Michael O'Brien, Publisher, Aerospace and Defence Technology John Godfrey, Ed., The Financial Post 4) Current and Former Canadian Government Officials: Mary Collins, Assoc. Min. of Defence Gerald Kerr, Dir., Defence Industries and Emerg. Planning, Dep't of Supply and Services Reg H. Dorrett, Assist. Deputy Minister, Internat'l Trade Dev., Dep't of Ext. Affairs Ross Campbell, former Can.Amb. to NATO Jean-Jacques Blais, former Defence Min. Robert Sandor, Dir., Defence Pgms Div., Dep't of Ext. Affairs 5) Arms Trade Consultants: Michael Butler, Can. Internat'l Defence Consultants, Ottawa Mitchell Segal, Partner, Piper and Marbury, Washington, D.C. Ross Campbell, Partner, InterCon Consultants, Ottawa Christopher Trump, Consultant Michael Moodie, Senior Fellow and Special Advisor to the Pres., Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.

Richard Sanders works with COAT - Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade - in Ottawa

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990

Peace Magazine Dec 1989-Jan 1990, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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