Welsh Assembly laying welcome mat for Cluster Munition Bomb Manufacturers?

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 –


2 thoughts on “Welsh Assembly laying welcome mat for Cluster Munition Bomb Manufacturers?

  1. The intention was to go to Llanwit Major to raise awareness of the opposition to the Privatised Military Academy in face of a well funded propaganda exercise by MOD/Metrix/John Smith MP and No politicans prepared to speak out.

    Campaigners where in different locations in Llanwit Major on that day in extremely bad weather and were faced with intimidation and surveillance from a disproportionate police presence. The campaign against the privatisation of all UK military training to arms dealers has been almost entirely been an e-campaign. There have been sucessful protests at the Senedd and in Cardiff City Centre hampered by the massive police surveillance and control.

    The allegation that we haven’t responded to contact from the college is NOT true. In fact I wrote and sent booklets and had no reply. I would be very happy to speak/meet them any time so please email no2militaryacademy@inbox.com
    More info at http://www.antimetrix.org/

    Facts about Raytheon –

    Raytheon is the fifth biggest arms manufacturer in the world and are directly implicated in war crimes: In 2003, a Raytheon device hit the Shu’ale market in Baghdad in 2003, killing at least 62 civilians. In 2006 a Raytheon device hit Qana in Lebanon in 2006, killing at least 28 civilians, including 16 children. By welcoming Raytheon, our politicians are complicit with war crimes.
    Raytheon Company produces, according to its own web-site, http://www.raytheon.com/products/stellent/groups/public/documents/content/cms01_055754.pdf JSOW (Joint Stand Off Weapon), and cluster munitions to these: “JSOW integrates the BLU-97 combined effects bomblets and the BLU-108 sensor fused weapon submunitions for area targets or armoured vehicles”. These are considered as cluster weapons.

    The small explosive devices or bomblets are certainly key components in a cluster weapon. These consist of components such as the explosives themselves, the surrounding canister and a detonation mechanism or fuse which make the explosive charge detonate. The canister which contains bomblets is, as a rule, specially designed for this purpose and must therefore be regarded as a key component in a cluster bomb. This also consists of several sub-components. All canisters will have a mechanism or a fuse which makes the canister open and drop the smaller explosive devices.
    Hundreds and possibly thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed or maimed by outdated, defective U.S. cluster weapons that lack a safety feature other countries have added, according to observers, news reports and officials. Bruce Mueller, a former Army lieutenant colonel who managed the fuse program for defense contractor Raytheon.
    Cluster munitions have a high dud factor and are used also for that purpose to lay a minefield as Israel did during the last hours of the war with Lebanon. The streets were littered with them. Some dated back to 1976.

    Watch this programme on Cluster bombs (video)http://www.hd.net/drr306.html

    Raytheon and cluster munitions report on the connections between the banks and the producers from Netwerk Vlaanderen.

    A military academy is NOT the best option for the local economy
    – privatising military training is a dangerous option – Who are Raytheon and other to be answerable to? Who will momnitor what is going on?

    And likely to fail as other privatisations have been e.g. railways and COST the British tax payer more.

    The union PCS who represent the curerent trainers oppose the plan.

    Young people in S Wales are more likely to pressed in to military service to fight for illegal wars.

    The whole project is unethical..what happened to a vision for an ethical foreign policy?

    The only winners are the arms dealers Raytheon and friends. They profit – We pay!

  2. This really is missing the main point. The proposed private training centre is a significant step towards the development of a military-industrial complex in the UK – as in the US, arms companies, politicians and the upper echelons of the armed forces will be tied up together in promoting war as a means of profit. Since St Athan is a Private Finance Initiative, the whole thing will be funded, at huge cost, by the UK taxpayer (PFI is a glorified HP scheme). PFIs are hugely unpopular among workers because they inevitably entail widescale redundancies and the use of cheap labour – far far more workers will lose their MoD jobs through the development at St Athan than will be employed. And if 1,500 are employed at St A (the PCS’s estimate), those jobs will cost the taxpayer approximately £5.5 million each! Lunacy.
    Chances are, however, the academy will never happen. Half the training package has already been withdrawn. Metrix’s potential financial backers are undoubtedly getting nervous about the viability of the project and the growth of opposition (which is far larger than the impression given by the article).
    I’m not sure what your conclusion is meant to mean – if Atlantic College still represents its originators’ aims, students should have no hesitation in opposing everything the Metrix Consortium stands for.

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