The M5S members of the current “government of change” seem to have lost most of their scruples about selling bombs that are killing schoolchildren. At least that’s the impression one got from the ebullient statements by Defense Undersecretary Angelo Tofalo (M5S) at the international exhibition of weapons systems that just ended in Abu Dhabi: “a great opportunity to support Made in Italy excellence … one might consider organizing a grand defense industry fair ourselves, perhaps in Milan.” This latest turn can now find its place among the intricate patchwork of what Grillo’s followers are actually willing to support.
And it gets worse: an underhanded plan is afoot to defang the only real tool for controlling the arms trade, Law 185 of 1990, a conquest won at the time of the greatest strength of the peace movement, back when there were enormous demonstrations to stop the race to rearmament, and even nuns were chaining themselves in protest in front of Parliament. On Friday morning in Montecitorio, the plan to undermine this law was laid out in clear terms at the conference of pacifist organizations organized with the contribution of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The special guests at the round table on the theme “Production and export of arms: what are the responsibilities?” were Guido Crosetto, president of the Associazione delle imprese aerospaziali, della difesa e della sicurezza (Association of Aerospace, Defense and Security Companies)—the “Confindustria of the arms industry”—and a co-founder, with Giorgia Meloni, of the Brothers of Italy party, and the Foreign Ministry undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano (M5S). Di Stefano had a “lesson” he wanted to impart to the panel: he wanted to “debunk the hypocrisy and double standards” of those who thought of the race towards rearmament as “madness.”
He called on everyone to accept the “objective” logic of the “balance of power” expressed in “flexing one’s muscles,” but, most importantly, the economic one of “percentages of GDP that must not be lost, because otherwise there will be no more revenue for social programs and the basic income.” In short, his message was that we all need to bow down to the cutthroat competition among European arms industries, now including non-European actors as well, in their attempt to carve out slices of the arms market. “Germany is only pretending to block the export of weapons made by RWM to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen”—said the undersecretary in alarmed tones—“because they blocked it for six months, but the contract is for 20 years.”
Crosetto’s address had the same message. “We’ve had to take up Germany’s arms exports too,” he said, hinting at the Sardinian weapons factory owned by RWM. Then came the truly enlightening part of his speech, as he discussed the attempt to reform Law 185. This legislative project was introduced in the Senate a few weeks ago by another member of the Five Stars, Gianluca Ferrara, for his part a sincere pacifist who has been authoring “spiritual” tracts, and who wanted to improve the law by adding the possibility to block arms contracts already authorized in case of the breakout of armed conflicts involving the recipient countries, as is the case with Yemen, in addition to providing billions of euros of funding for the conversion of military technology into civilian and dual-use.
Crosetto, however, made it very clear what kind of changes would be of interest to him: namely, “bringing the top-level control back into the political realm, that is, to an inter-ministerial committee,” thus under the power of the government, replacing the current process for the approval of arms sales, which, he claimed, was “long and bureaucratic” and in the hands of “a single official.” He was referring here to the director of the Armaments Export Licensing Unit (UAMA) issuing arms export permits, Francesco Azzarello.
With such a provision included, not only did Di Stefano and Crosetto express their support for the “Ferrara reform” of Law 185, but Minister of Defense Trenta did so as well in the message she sent to Friday’s conference. Crosetto also proudly declared himself in favor of amending the Italian Constitution to include the 17 “goals” of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Too bad such a measure would be entirely superfluous: these goals are already binding for all UN member countries, and, furthermore, one could implement Ferrara’s ideas to reform Law 185 with a simple government decree, without needing to overhaul and weaken this Italian law—one of the most progressive in the world—at its very core.
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