Robert Isaf (United States, AC 07-09)
It was almost 50 years ago that Antonin Besse donated the beautiful coastal estate of St. Donat’s castle to his friend Kurt Hahn as a location for his new ‘educational experiment’. The college that finally grew out of its cracked and well-worn stones is a testament to international understanding, education, and peace. Now, five decades later and only a matter of miles down the road, another ground-breaking educational institution is being planned – but one with radically different goals.
The original St. Athan military base was built in 1936 on land made cheap by the depression and bought by the Air Ministry. Though it was always intended to be a permanent RAF station, many of the buildings built during this time were temporary, and much of the site is now in a state of decay and disrepair. Now, the Parliament at Westminster and the devolved Assembly on the Bay are driving forward a new plan to revive the once-important base. Metrix, a ‘consortium of leading training, defense, property and support companies’ (according to promotional material), has been awarded a £14 billion contract to build an expanded military training academy on the site.
The St Athan Defense Training Academy, which is (according to the BBC) one of the largest government investments in Welsh history and which has been described as ‘greater than [the investment] for the London Olympics,’ is set to be completed by 2013 and would be the second-largest centre for military training in the world, training every British military recruit during the early phases of training. Its main supporter, local Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith, insists that the project will prove to be a huge economic stimulus to the region, claiming originally that a total of 5,500 new jobs would be created. Though he has since lowered the job tally, he has grown no less optimistic in tone.
Despite having support from all four of Wales’ major political parties, the planned ‘mega-university’ has been met with a proportionate amount of criticism, ranging from doubts about its actual economic impact to fears that it will somehow affect the autonomy of a devolved Wales. Perhaps the most advertised and serious concern has to do with the involvement of Raytheon, an American company that created the first commercial microwave and is now a major weapons manufacturer.
As a part of the Metrix Consortium, Raytheon will be directly involved in the redevelopment of St. Athan, and in the training of its future ‘students,’ and is therefore party to the academy’s earnings and to the initial £14 billion government investment. Its involvement might have been ignored completely had it not been for the company’s much-criticized connections with the production of cluster munitions.
In 2005 the Norwegian Government Petroleum Fund’s Advisory Council on Ethics released a list of companies to be excluded from the Fund, due to their involvement in the production of cluster munitions. The weapon in question – the AGM154 Joint Standoff Weapon, or JSOW – integrates, according to the Norwegian Funds report, “the BLU-97 combined effects bomblets and the BLU-108 sensor fused weapon submunitions for area targets or armored vehicles. These are considered as cluster weapons.”
The ethics of Cluster Bombs are, by this point, hardly debatable in and of themselves; the campaign against them has succeeded in demonizing them on almost every level of society, and has led to numerous international conferences and talks to discuss and specify the terms surrounding their use. This whirlwind of government soul-searching is set to climax during the conference in Dublin that opened on the 19th of May and will be closing at the end of the month. Over 100 countries will be debating possible bans on the use, possession, and production of submunitions. The British government, for one, has emphasized on repeated occasions its firm opposition to cluster munitions, which begs the question: why hand over possibly the largest government investment in Welsh history to a company which is allegedly (according to AC’s anti-cluster munitions organization at a recent assembly) ‘one of the largest producers of cluster munitions in the world?’
Anne Greagsby, one of the most vocal of St. Athan’s critics, seems to be wondering that exactly. She is quoted as saying, ‘I am sure that most people would be shocked to hear that the Assembly has laid a welcome mat for such companies, especially at a time when other governments are turning their backs on them.” The Temple of Peace in Cardiff, which Ms. Greagsby is associated with, similarly wrote “many of the political leaders of Wales claim to be opposed to the production and use of weapons of mass destruction. Why are they now entering into such a cozy relationship with one of the world’s largest producers of just such weapons?”
On our own campus, the issue received considerable press for a time, when the school’s anti-cluster munitions organization began to investigate and consider protesting the academy, given its alleged cluster-munitions connections, even planning to attend the April 19th ‘street action’ in Llantwit organized by the Temple of Peace. As it turns out, though, Raytheon’s actual record concerning cluster munitions may prove to be less damning than its critics claim. Raytheon’s spokesman insists that, “Raytheon has never manufactured cluster bombs, but in the past [has] been associated with their manufacture because of our contract to produce a missile that can carry different types of monition payloads, determined by the customer.” He went on to admit that cluster bomb payloads could be used, but emphasized that they were completely unaffiliated with Raytheon itself, and that that particular JSOW weapon had ceased production anyways. Moreover, he added, the company “Has no other products in development that are designed to disperse cluster submunitions.”.
The clarification was warmly received by Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Heather March, a resident and former mayor of Llantwit Major, pointed out very soberly that, even had Raytheon produced cluster munitions in the past, “obviously no firm will produce weapons which are tabooed for warfare.” Nevertheless, Raytheon refused to comment or elaborate on their claims when contacted by INK.
In any case, the moral opposition to ‘cluster bombs in Glamorgan’ seems to have fallen apart of its own accord. The planned street action in Llantwit was attended only by Ms. Greagsby and three other campaigners, and in the 30-something minutes it lasted only attracted the ire of nearby shopkeepers. No campaigners from the college attended in the end. Amit Meyer, the leader of the cluster munitions coalition at the college, said a major reason for the non-attendance was poor communications from the organizers in Cardiff; even though the school contacted them expressing interest in the protest, the organizers never responded, leaving the AC campaigners stranded. He also suggested at one meeting that some teachers feared straining the relationship between St. Athan and AC; in the past, base personnel have been involved with the school in various ways, even helping to set up the EMC obstacle course. Amit explained simply, “since we were in Wales, some people didn’t feel too comfortable protesting against St. Athan – so we decided not to do it.” Ms. Greagsby herself said that the cluster bomb issue wasn’t really the campaigners’ biggest issue. Instead, she admitted “they’re just something graphic we’ve focused on.”
Indeed, there are plenty of other criticisms to be heard about the project. One major recurring theme was the project’s alleged economic advantages. Ms. Greagsby has called Metrix’s formula for job creation “a fantasy, not a reality,” and also seemed wary of the nature of any potential jobs. She said, “We just want to see sustainable jobs. If Norway and Ireland can have good, ethical jobs, so can we.” She was also skeptical of the ‘economic boom’ such jobs might bring, saying “it’s only a fraction of what they say it will be. What [the academy’s employed] are really going to be spending money on is pubs on Friday night.”
Another major criticism concerns the ever-more privatized nature of the British military system, which Ms. Greagsby referred to as the ‘Americanization of our military.’ St. Athan would not be exclusive to British ‘students;’ as a privately run institution, it would train whichever military forces could afford to pay. “We’re training mercenaries for despots all over the world,” Ms. Greagsby said, adding “all around the globe, St. Athan will become famous… for the wrong reasons.” Though contacted, MP Smith – who visited Atlantic College earlier this year and spent some time trying to drum up support for his pet project, according to students – failed to respond or comment.
Not all local residents viewed the development quite as negatively, of course. Ms. March is certainly not against the proposal. The site in its current state “is no good to anybody, least of all Llantwit and the Vale,” she says, adding that “this 1000 acre site will never return to agriculture and if it is not utilized by the MOD it will turn into an industrial scrap yard… so the plan to bring an Academy for the technical training of Personnel for all the armed services, by building on what is already there inside the base and using some of the remaining huge area for business allied to the aerospace industry, seems to me a good option.”
While admitting that “no-one believes the projected figures for jobs,” Ms. March still seems confident that the new base could benefit the local economy, reminding doubters that when, at its peak, St. Athan hosted 14000 bodies, the impact and effect on Llantwit was ‘huge,’ and that even now the camp is “a major factor in the local life and economy.”
That does not mean that Ms. March thinks the matter is an entirely local one, though. “There are implications for the way that this country and possibly other countries are run,” she said, “and lessons to be learned. I am glad,” the former mayor emphasized, “that AC students are taking an interest in these issues… if the project comes to fruition, there may be about 5000 young people in training at St. Athan at one time.” 1600 years ago the university at Llantwit Major was one of the largest educational institutions in Europe, and now Atlantic College has succeeded it as one of the most prestigious; very soon we may be welcoming another institution into this vale. In the years to come it will be entirely up to us how our two campuses – one dedicated to peace, the other to war, both internationally known and prestigious – will interact and coexist with each other in this small, fertile corner of Wales.
– United World College Student Magazine –