Discursive Ambiguity: A Critical Evaluation of the Discourse Surrounding the Arms Trade


The discourse surrounding the arms trade is an area that remains under-theorised. Perhaps this is because it relates more to concepts of legitimacy than to the study of security –which naturally tends to focus on more the arms industry’s security implications. Equally, despite its attempts to appear and be treated like any other commercial sector[1] it remains qualitatively different; the literature pertaining to legitimacy in the commercial sector tends to remain mute on the arms trade. Whilst modern theories of linguistics do have profound cross-disciplinary application, George Lakoff’s work on linguistics, metaphor and security is one valuable contribution, the arms trade is sidelined in favour of discourse analysis focusing on the build-up to war.[2]

This thesis aims to provide some analysis of the discourse surrounding the arms trade. It is by no means meant to be exhaustive. The arms trade is perceived differently the world over. Local culture, legal frameworks and social norms will mean an analysis of the semiotics and semantics of the arms trade –and any related structural analysis- in the UK cannot be grafted unproblematically onto a United States context, for example. The influence of the Second Amendment and powerful gun lobby interests in the USA no doubt result in a slightly different ideological hegemony from that which prevails in the UK, and therefore, discourse aimed for public consumption will reflect this.[3]

By focusing on BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace[4]), we have a good example of a company that has, since the mid 1980s, followed a trajectory away from being a British industry in any measurable sense, and yet retains close links with government and, to a lesser degree, media. Whilst I believe the arms trade has no legitimate value in relation to the general public, a legitimising discourse surrounding the arms trade continues to demonstrate uniformity between the three blocs of media, government and industry. The question arises, then, as to why this is.

But before engaging in any critical discourse analysis, it will be useful to note some of the structural changes that have taken place since 1987[5], both within BAE itself, and in relation to the UK and government. I will do this in the first chapter, arriving at the modern day connections between industry and government, and putting forth some suggestions as to why the British government has hardly ever “come up with any decision that would be incommoding to [BAE].”[6]

In the second chapter I will introduce a theoretical model to help demonstrate the tendency of a ‘discursive shift’. In order to apply it I will focus on a few examples of from last decade of how appeals to national security have proven successful in closing down unwanted scrutiny. I then explore the concept of national security and offer some explanations as to why it remains relatively impervious to critique, thereby reinforcing the theoretical model’s applicability.

In the third chapter I sketch out a few significant concepts relating to constitutive metaphors and structuralist linguistic theory, then going on to explore the relationship between ‘embedded’ and instrumental discourses, focusing in particular on the corporate, anodyne discourse typical of the arms industry’s day-to-day use. After analysing examples of both semiotic and written discourse, I then go on to elaborate on my contention that the arms industry’s ambiguous discourse serves a single purpose: the maintenance and reinforcement of its legitimacy. This is the focus of Chapter Four, in which I explore the characteristics of the arms trade’s legitimising strategy in its two principle discursive ‘tiers’, draw on a survey to measure the effectiveness of this, as well as making some final structural observations on its use of space.

Writing both as a politics student and an anti-arms trade activist, I feel it is appropriate to offer some suggestions in my concluding remarks relating to counter-hegemonic strategy, based on the analysis presented in this thesis.


Chapter one: structural considerations

From British Aerospace to BAE Systems

BAE [then British Aerospace] was founded in 1977, nationalised in 1980, before being fully privatised in 1986. Whilst no mere appendage of the British state apparatus, the strong British link cannot be dismissed immediately after the privatisation.[7] In February 1987 the association’s limit on foreign shareholdings was set as 15 percent. Its actual figure was closer to 13 percent.[8] By August 1989 this threshold was raised so that foreign investors could increase their shareholdings from a total of 15 percent equity to 29.5 percent.[9] By 2005 the top three investors in BAE were all foreign firms, amounting a combined 26.1 percent of total share capital.[10]

Not only has the company become significantly more international in terms of its principle investors, but it has never relied on the domestic (UK) market as its principle profit making venture. As early as 1987, Sir Raymond Lygo, then Chief Executive, remarked how Britain as a ‘base is far too small for a company our size. As a company grows then the size of that base diminishes.’[11] This emphasis on exports, and the development of several ‘home markets’ has been a consistent trend in the recent history of BAE Systems. In 1987 exports accounted for £2 billion out of £3.1 billion in profits.[12] By 1998 that figure had reached £7.7 billion, accounting for 89 percent of total sales.[13] In 1999 BAE supplied only 7 percent of the support budget to the UK armed forces, which amounted to 25 percent of its total support work.[14] Their 1999 Annual Review publication puts it unequivocally, how ‘the company has emerged from being a largely UK domestic producer to having home markets in nine countries. The company employs over 110,000 people including 18,400 in North America.’[15] As Edmund Byrne notes, BAE now concedes it is largely American owned.[16]

In November 1999 it lost all vestiges of its Britishness in both name and logo (see Appendices 1-2) following a merger with Marconi Electronics Systems (MES), after which it became BAE Systems. In its most recent annual report (2009), BAE assessed its market position within the USA as worth over $16 billion, with a total accessible US defence market of over $667 billion, roughly ten times that of the UK.[17] Along with the US, Saudi Arabia has proven to be one of the company’s biggest markets, with the company developing a ‘very strong relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’[18], in addition to profits from the ‘Al Yamamah’ deals since 1985 surpassing £42 billion.[19]

Without dwelling too much longer on such statistical trends, one final element of the trajectory away from being considered British is jobs and employment.  Following a long downward trend in the number of British jobs since the 1980s, in the last twelve years 40,000 jobs have been cut or relocated, resulting in a decrease from 70,000 in 1998[20], to 40,000 in 2004.[21] At the end of 2009 the figure stood closer to 30,000 out of an estimated 106,900 total employees worldwide.[22]

These very significant structural trends towards a more globalised outlook are reflected in the statements BAE made at the time of the British Aerospace/MES merger. Within the Annual Review’s opening paragraphs, references to globalisation are frequent: ‘an industry that was, only a few years ago, nationally based and fragmented, is consolidating quickly and becoming global. The industry is driven by cost pressure together with the increasing technical complexity of customers’ requirements.’[23]

Whilst it is certainly true that by 1999 BAE could hardly be described as ‘British’ without at least a few caveats as demonstrated above, the relationship between industry and government remained close.


Industry and government proximity

One shocking statistic to come from the United States pertains to the massive financial support of the various arms and mercenary –or Private Military and Security- companies. As Jeremy Scahill notes, The U.S. government pays contractors as much as the combined taxes paid by everyone in the United States with incomes under $100,000, meaning ‘more than 90 percent of all taxpayers might as well remit everything they owe directly to [contractors] rather than to the [government]’.[24] A similar trend of indirect subsidization exists in the UK, to the extent that in 2006, the insurance cover extended to arms companies via the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), use of the armed forces for export promotion, as well as wider research and development (R&D) support amounted to between £453 million and £936 million of subsidies per annum.[25] These costs are all borne by the taxpayer, so that, across the 70,000 or so jobs in the UK arms industry[26] each is subsidized (on average) by around £13,000 per annum.

This degree of industry subsidization undermines arguments predicated on the grounds that the arms trade benefits Britain, particularly its citizens. It is also arguably grounds for considering the industry to be illegitimate; far from adhering to free market principles it benefits from a protectionist sphere of influence.

Whilst BAE declared zero outgoings in terms of political donations and lobbying in its 2009 Annual Review[27], the industry’s government links are, in structural terms, much more tangible. In 1989, John Tower was nominated by President Bush for the position of Defense Secretary. His links with BAE up to that point amounted to no less than formal employment, being paid £156,000 over a three-year period to lobby on their behalf in the US.[28] Systemically, Byrne notes how ‘no one in the Pentagon is held accountable when authorized weapons systems are not produced within designated time frames, or when their development goes as much as 50 percent over budget, or when such cost overruns require either reducing the number of units to be built or expanding defense spending beyond all rational limits…[yet] contractors seem not to mind…because they are routinely paid regardless of their performance.’[29]

The blurring of the distinction between arms manufacturers and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is no recent phenomenon, although an example from 2002 is illustrative: Clare Short, former Minister for International Development, elaborated on the nature of the BAE relationship with the government, in the context of the India/Pakistan escalation of hostilities. She claimed that “every British minister who visits India is briefed to propose and push the billion pounds’ worth of [BAE Hawk Jets]” as part of one of three briefings: ‘talking points, from Downing Street, things to mention and plug, like arms deals.’[30]

The UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), -previously the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO)- continues to use taxpayers’ money to help promote arms exports, employing 160 civil servants in the government department with this specific portfolio. This is more civil servants than the UK government employs to support every other industry sector combined.[31] According to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK based lobby group, arms sales account for around 1.5 percent of UK exports, sustaining 0.2 percent of the national labour force.[32] Assuming these statistics are accurate, we must question why it is that the state acts in the ‘direct interests of arms capital, challenging the state’s autonomy from capital.’[33]

David Mutimer offers some convincing explanations in The Weapons State (2000). In focusing on Britain’s continued commitment to Trident replacement, he notes, given Britain’s relative decline since the end of World War Two, nuclear armaments and a domestic arms industry remain ‘a potent symbol of Britain’s claim to be a leading member of the international community’.[34] Furthermore, ‘the continued recognition of the UK’s place as a great power, it seems, requires maintaining an arms industry and particularly a nuclear capability.’[35] He goes on to suggest that, with the possible exception of the USA, whose military expenditure far outstrips its nearest rival, all arms manufacturing nations require a strong export industry, and particularly weapons systems typical of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA): ‘high-technology conventional weapons symbolize modernity and sovereignty in the contemporary world.’[36]

In other words, the value of a domestic arms industry is more symbolic than anything else. It might be hugely subsidized, and not particularly beneficial as an economic asset, -most particularly for taxpayer- but there is a perceived value, which arguably derives from a discursive construction that sees national interest through a securitized, ‘proliferation frame’.[37] The end result is the perpetuation of the military-industrial complex.


The relationship with media

Having focused briefly on the relationship between the arms trade and the government, it is appropriate to take into account the role of media, particularly because of its prominent position within civil society, and therefore its role in both reproducing hegemonic discourse[38], and in the manufacture of consent.[39] Understanding some basic points as to the structural relationship between the media and both government and industry is vital, as it underpins any explanation of why media continues to reify dominant discourses, especially in relation to the arms industry.

General Electric is a multinational corporation with numerous corporate ventures, both within media and the arms industry. Marconi Electronic Systems (MES) was formerly General Electric Company, and as of 1999, subsumed in BAE Systems. GE Aviation is another contemporary subsidiary of the GE corporate giant. As Chomsky and Herman observe in Manufacturing Consent (1994), ‘GE and Westinghouse are both huge, diversified multinational companies heavily involved in the controversial areas of weapons production and nuclear power.’ GE is a ‘highly centralized…organization…with a vast stake in “political” decisions…depend[ing] on the government to subsidize their nuclear power and military research and development, and to create a favorable climate for their overseas sales.’[40] Thus, it is in the interests of mass media not to be overly critical of government policy. One natural consequence of this is the adoption of similar discursive patterns.

The mass media is ever more centralized and corporately controlled[41], representing the interests of a small, elite class ‘with the same point of view’.[42] Such an assessment need not be predicated on a conspiracy theory, however. As Chomsky and Herman propound, a “free-market analysis” offers a good explanation as to why ‘most biased choices in the media arise from the pre-selection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market and political power’. They continue: ‘In most cases media leaders do similar things because they see the world through the same lenses, are subject to similar constraints and incentives, and thus feature stories or maintain silence together in tacit collective action and leader-follower behavior.’[43]

One focus of Gramscian hegemonic theory that could be applied here is the role played by ‘traditional intellectuals’, those who come to prominence as an epiphenomenon of a wider trend –for example, the consolidation of a mass media in the hands of a few corporate entities, as a consequence of capitalist development. They ‘obscure their organic connections, presenting themselves as independent and autonomous. They act as if they are presenting an ‘objective world-view’ that is not connected to the dominant class or most powerful social groups of the time.’ As Peter Ives notes, ‘Gramsci indicates that this occurs almost always because such intellectuals do function to help legitimate the status quo and thus the dominant social group.’[44]

The consequences of these structural links based on shared economic and political interests are the found in uniform linguistic patterns and arguments between the triangle of media, government and industry. As we will see, any attempts by the arms industry to use discourse as a tool for the maintenance of its legitimacy require the tacit –and sometimes active- collaboration of both media and governments to be successful. At this point we can begin to focus more on the discursive. Throughout the following chapters we should remain cognizant of the structural arguments put forth as to why the government has proven so supportive to the UK arms trade in the past, particularly in the case study of the 2006 Serious Fraud Office (SFO) enquiry into corruption allegations against BAE.


Chapter two: three discursive ‘tiers’

National security within orientational metaphors

The language of national security is typified by the use of superlatives –terms like ‘imperative’, ‘utmost’, and ‘vital’[45]. The most common phraseologies will include some appeal to one of the above superlatives when the language of security is invoked; policy makers will ‘scream national security at the top of their lungs’. Following the premature end to the SFO’s 2006 enquiry, Private Eye described the political intervention as the ‘Saudi climb-down’, referring perhaps facetiously to the “highest priority foreign policy objectives” of keeping Saudi Arabia happy.[46]

These two passages, along with more general linguistic traits relating to national security, are indicative of an underlying metaphorical type that we live by.[47] This is the ‘up-down’ configuration of an ‘orientational metaphor’.[48] Within the English language, spatial orientation is a mainstay. A two examples of the ‘up-down’ metaphor, given by Lakoff and Johnson in Metaphors We Live By (2003), include ‘control or force is up; being subject to control or force is down’; and ‘high status is up; low status is down’.[49] On this last type, they offer a few examples: ‘she’ll rise to the top’, ‘she fell in status’, ‘he’s climbing the social ladder’.[50] The language of national security fits comfortably within this manifestation of the orientational metaphor; where national security denotes high status, and is therefore expressed in superlatives, and in terms of it being ‘up’. Not incidentally, ‘up’ is also where our concepts of power are metaphorically located.[51]

This is not an example of instrumental discourse, rather of ‘embedded discourse’[52] that has arisen through a natural development. Of course, embedded discourse can be used instrumentally, but for our present purposes it is enough to note how national security –as manifesting the orientational ‘up = high status/importance/power’- is linguistically expressed in terms of its relative position to other concepts. With this starting point in ‘embedded discourse’, we can develop a theoretical model that explains the relationship between more instrumental discourses intended to manipulate and persuade.


The theoretical model

I would postulate that the discourse surrounding the arms trade tends to take two different forms, perhaps better understood as ‘tiers’ of discourse. Chart 1 (below) offers a basic visual representation.

Theoretical model diagram

The theoretical model


Given the correlation between concepts of national security and the orientational metaphor described in the previous section, it perhaps comes as no surprise that I  place it on the 1st, or ‘upper’ discursive tier. However the embedded discourse alone is insufficient to explain the relative positioning of the three discursive tiers. For example, the symbolic value and legitimacy ascribed to ‘high technology’ as typified by the RMA[53], not to mention ubiquitous, vapid corporate appeals to ‘excellence’, ‘high standards’, and being ‘up where we belong’[54] might also seem to warrant the highest tier. The three are positioned in the given order because of their relative strength. The model is used in this thesis to explicate the methods through which the arms trade derives its legitimacy.

The model represents a hierarchical tiering of discourse. The arms industry’s economic, capitalist, commercial, and scientific discourse, and all related corporate semiotics (see appendices) operate on the 3rd tier. This is, I would contend, an amoral tier[55], in which the principle characteristics are commercial practice and corruption. It is also the default discursive position of the industry. The first of these characteristics is immediately apparent. The second, on the other hand is not. Rather, it is uncovered by enquiry from the 2nd tier. This ‘intermediate’ tier is a characterised by juridical, political and ethical concerns. Because it is located above the third tier it can debate, hold to account, and most crucially, politicise the activities below it. As with the Scott Enquiry in the 1990s[56], the SFO Enquiry of 2004-2006, and the most recent round of corruption investigations, this intermediate tier uncovers corruption –as an immoral practice- and demands accountability and due legal process. Its position above the amorality of the corporate (3rd) tier allows it to impose its own morality.

At this point it must be underscored that the fundamental proviso of the model’s utility is that the arms trade rarely, if ever, uses the 2nd discursive tier. Its language avoids the ethical or political. Its appeals to Corporate Social Responsibility have been truncated into self-monitored ‘CSR’ pledges; any discourse on a juridical level is co-opted by corporate practice, and depoliticised once more by its relocation to the 3rd tier: CSR, far from representing the arms industry’s use of 2nd tier discourse, is just another expected element of multinationals’ governance structure. Indeed, it is perhaps best understood as a typical feature of ‘corporate isomorphism’[57], a concept we will return to later in our assessment of legitimacy. As Byrne argues, its value is symbolic only, as the arms industry violates CSR standards on an endemic level.[58] Where it has previously attempted to gain legitimacy through forays into the 2nd tier it rarely succeeds. One example is the appropriation of the discourse of environmentalism (a tactic commonly known as ‘greenwash’). Around the same time as the closure of the Al Yamamah corruption enquiry, BAE announced a range of environmentally friendly bullets. The inherent logical juxtaposition proved too much for the general public; the announcement was derided, and then the plans swiftly scrapped.[59]

Because the 2nd discursive tier is so inhospitable to the arms trade’s goal of legitimacy –again, something we will return to later- in responding to the imposition of the 2nd tier’s moral and politicising enquiry, it has no alternative other than to shift its discourse to the highest tier; that of national security. Given the structural links discussed in the previous chapter, the industry can make this discursive shift without the demur of government.

In the 1st tier, securitisation takes precedence over all political, juridical, or moral interests, as it, much like the 3rd tier, is an amoral plateau. Or, at least, moral and political concerns are subordinated to those framed by national security. With the exception of the slower process of discourse appropriation –the CSR example above- this discursive shift is the only depoliticising action that the arms trade can take, and it has proven highly effective.


Applying the theoretical model

Perhaps the most infamous is the 2004-2006 SFO Enquiry into alleged mass corruption on the part of BAE Systems. To provide some context, the enquiry was conducted from 2004 to investigate accusations of BAE officials bribing members of the Saudi royal family. The corruption was alleged to surround a series of arms deals dating back to 1985, known collectively as the ‘Al Yamamah’ deals. These included the sale of over 72 Tornado fighters, 50 Hawk Jet trainers, the design and construction of two air bases, followed by a further 48 Tornados in 1993 and 72 Typhoons in 2005.[60] The SFO investigation uncovered a slush fund of $117 million, and secretive payments, mostly in the form of ‘thousands of barrels of oil, with the money going to a dedicated Ministry of Defence account.’ The bribe money, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article at the time, came from ‘BAE, which obtained the money by inflating the price of the Tornadoes by 32 percent.’[61]

The enquiry was closed down by Tony Blair in December 2006 after lobbying from Saudi Arabia. The grounds given were national security, a mantra which was repeated by the SFO. The argument ran that ‘If Britain had gone through [with the investigation] the Saudi’s would have withheld intelligence and ‘vital surveillance of terror suspects during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca…the ambassador had even suggested [that] persisting with the SFO probe could endanger lives in Britain’.’[62] According to Blair, circumstances relating to the public interest “outweigh the need to maintain the rule of law.”[63] He elaborated by claiming that the SFO had dropped its inquiry “to safeguard national and international security”.[64]

The remaining Typhoon order was expected to bring around £6 billion, involving between 5,000 and 10,000 British jobs for the following ten years.[65] This economic agenda, which many commentators at the time suspected had been given too little rhetorical credence, was arguably a contributing factor. As one commentator in the Guardian observed, the national security rationale was dubious: ‘this was really about money… [w]hat matters in the geopolitics of the Middle East is the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States; anything Britain does is a sideshow.’[66]

We can apply the theoretical model to these events, and indeed what came after. CAAT and The Corner House challenged the decision in the courts. In April 2008 the High Court ruled that the SFO had acted unlawfully in curtailing the enquiry, but this ruling was overturned by the House of Lords on 30 July 2008.[67] The challenge from CAAT and The Corner House represented a political and juridical affront –in actuality, and discursively from the ‘2nd tier’- to the argument of national security. As the ruling was overturned, the logic of national security was not weakened by a dangerous juridical precedent.

The impervious ‘national security’

The effect of relocating to a national security discourse has not gone unanalysed in academia. As a number of case studies have shown, appeals to a discourse of national security have proven highly effective in closing down debate, and depoliticising controversy. In a passage indicative of the same conclusion, Byrne refers to an American public: ‘American people are accustomed to letting militaristic rhetoric trump moral concerns. When the mantra of national defense is sounded they see no moral issue to address despite the concentration of tax-derived funds on the arms industry’.[68]

Gramsci’s concept of a ‘war of position’ can be invoked here. According to his work on linguistics, Peter Ives notes that ‘language is both an element in the exercise of power, and a metaphor for how power operates.’[69] The war of position is an agenda-setting struggle that prefigures any attempt to gain power.[70] What this means is that by framing an issue in a certain way (e.g. the arms trade as framed through a national security ‘image’[71]) one forces one’s opponent onto your discursive terrain. This is significant, particularly with regards to the securitisation of a given issue, because ‘the distinguishing feature of securitization is a specific rhetorical structure…[in which] an issue is dramatized and presented as an issue of supreme priority; thus, by labeling it as security, an agent claims a need for and a right to treat it by extraordinary means.”[72] When it is the ‘utterance itself that is the act’ discursive securitisation can be seen as particularly powerful.[73]

When the hegemonic ‘framing’ argues in favour of protecting national security, the default position of the dissenter or critic becomes one of opposition to the protection of national security. This is clearly politically untenable, so for the sake of maintaining one’s own legitimacy one must use the same vocabulary and conceptual language, which ‘generally requires acceptance of the parameters within which a policy is framed.’[74]

Stephen Poole’s idea of ‘unspeak’ is relevant here. ‘Unspeak’ refers to ‘a name for something, but not a neutral name. It is a name that smuggles in a political opinion…[and that] represents an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself.’ ‘At the same time it tries to unspeak –in the sense of erasing, or silencing- any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem.’[75] This discursive framing and the use of ‘unspeak’ is pervasive throughout the arms industry. One can see it in the ‘Defence Matters’ UK lobby group, of which BAE is a principle member. The name challenges the dissenter to disagree with the fundamental premise that national defence is legitimate. Once again, such a position is untenable and so the dissenter replicates the hegemonic trends and vocabulary. It is this almost voluntary self-censorship that helps maintain the status quo, which in the case of this thesis, is the positioning of national security discourse in the 1st tier of the theoretical model.

George Lakoff has explored metaphor within securitisation. His notion of ‘state-as-person’ is a good example of an embedded discourse being used instrumentally to frame certain debates. In this metaphor, the state has friends, allies, neighbours. Its wealth is understood in terms of its economic health. Maturity, Lakoff argues, is understood in terms of industrialization. Unindustrialised nations are ‘underdeveloped’[76]. Therefore, the implicit logic of the metaphor requires that, ‘Since it is in the interest of every person to be as strong and healthy as possible, a rational state seeks to maximize wealth and military might’[77]. Not only is the metaphor an underpinning rationale for the military-industrial complex and capitalism in general, but it conveniently masks the heterogeneity of interests within a state. Appeals to ‘national interest’ ignore those groups, citizens and institutions that may lose out due to massive military spending, and the reallocation of the public budget from more socially orientated schemes. National interest, then, far from being objective, is a metaphorical concept that is ‘defined…by politicians and policy makers. For the most part, they are influenced more by the rich than by the poor, more by large corporations than by small businesses, and more by developers than ecological activists.’[78]

At this point it is worth taking a moment to understand the drawbacks to discourse analysis. Whilst we can make empirical claims as to the outcomes of the use of certain discourses, it is harder to prove the motivation for their application, or whether indeed they can be said to have been ‘applied’ –like a tool- at all.[79] It makes sense to focus our next section on differentiating between embedded discourse and instrumental discourse, drawing examples relating to the arms trade from both the 1st and 3rd tiers of the theoretical model.


Chapter Three: discursive ambiguity

Constitutive linguistics

We can contend without any real controversy that certain discourses are adopted voluntarily –in the sense that their adoption pre-empts any coercion- as a means of ensuring the agent’s legitimacy. Failure to do so may result in defamation, as with the attacks on the Al Jazeera television network by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt when it refused to remain silent on civilian catastrophes in Fallujah in 2004.[80] Gramsci’s notion of a ‘spontaneous normative grammar’[81] is illuminating on this subject. By this he refers to the speech patterns developed through an informal process of revision, that might be initiated through teasing, the request for clarification, or more pre-emptively, because the agent understands that a certain way of speaking will be more likely to gain approval, respect, and legitimacy.[82] The subaltern classes will mimic the dominant classes and intellectuals of the era. A hegemonic discourse, or ‘normative grammar’ is created through the ‘organization, codification and legitimization of certain spontaneous grammars.’ ‘This is a competitive process whereby many (if not most) spontaneous grammars are often delegitimized and suppressed.’[83]

This links back to the section on the uniformity between industry, government and media in Chapter One, and goes some way to explaining why any discursive strategies with the intention of maintaining arms industry legitimacy are often shared. It also has application for the industry itself, as we will note when we come to look at concepts of legitimacy emanating from the three discursive tiers.

The Gramscian analysis is complimented by Lakoff and Johnson, who map the development of a number of foundational metaphors in simultaneity with the rise of capitalism.[84] For example, in our culture, ‘time is money’ –e.g. ‘we’re running out of time’, ‘we spent three hours there’, ‘I didn’t use my time profitably’.[85] As they note, this is not a fundamental or necessary way of conceptualising time, but ‘corresponding to the fact that we act as if time is a valuable commodity –a limited resource, even money- we conceive of time that way.’[86]

As a number of structural linguists contend, our understanding of language and ability to derive meaning from words comes from their relationship to other concepts, and what they are not[87]. Their meaning is also inter-subjective[88], rather than the signifier acting as a container from which information and understanding is dispensed.[89] This synchronic[90] understanding of linguistics is certainly useful, however remaining aware of the historical development of language and meaning (a ‘diachronic’ method) remains important, particularly when attempting to explain why the language of capitalism has become so embedded within our language.

On this theme, Lakoff and Johnson explain how the commodification of our metaphors underpins huge swathes of the English language. These are ‘ontological metaphors’, where an abstract concept, like the economy or national security, is objectified, and turned into an entity so that we can ‘refer to it, quantify it, identify a particular aspect of it, see it as a cause, act with respect to it, and perhaps even believe that we understand it.’[91] With national security, we often speak of ‘protecting the national interest’, as though it were a physical, fragile thing in need of protection. The reification of national security through an ontological metaphor therefore legitimizes the need to take defensive action. The thought process is barely on a conscious level.

As Lakoff and Johnson rightly point out, we develop certain metaphors and speak using them because we conceive of things that way.[92] These metaphors are pervasive because we often cannot express ourselves without reference to them; they are no mere artificial construct wielded to manipulate. This is what is meant by the term embedded discourse. Having looked briefly at how metaphor is constitutive, we can now explore the embedded discourse of the arms trade.


The arms trade

David Mutimer has made some significant insights into the language of the arms trade. He finds the arms trade unique in the discourse surrounding weapons, as whilst it has been ‘framed’ by an ‘arms control’ or ‘disarmament’ image –in which the image relates to the discourse and practice- it is alone in being framed by a ‘commercial image as an industry parallel in most ways to any other commercial venture.’[93] Even critics will refer to ‘arms manufacturers’ in the pejorative as ‘merchants of death’.[94] Such statements ‘indicate how deeply rooted this image is in our discourse on weapons…[to the point that] it is almost impossible to talk about the creation and acquisition of conventional arms without lapsing into the language of industry.’[95] Indeed, ‘even as we contest the claim that arms production and sales is a business like any other, we do so in a language that implicitly recognizes it as a business.’[96]

This embedded commercial language underpins the arms trade’s claims to legitimacy through being a commercial sector. Whilst it certainly does use economic, corporatist discourse (that of the 3rd tier) instrumentally, it can be hard to draw the line between what is embedded, and therefore not deployed, and what is. Often drawing such a line is entirely arbitrary, for there exists a substantial grey area.

The first analytical point must be to distinguish between embedded commercial metaphor and the use of 3rd tier discourse. As Mutimer observes, different framings invite us to see an issue in different ways. If the arms trade is employing a commercial discourse or frame, then the language it uses will be markedly different to if it has undergone a discursive shift to the 1st tier. We can take the example of Saudi Arabia as an example. If the arms industry were to describe its relationship with Saudi Arabia through a ‘human rights’ frame, it might emphasize the repressive, fundamentalist nature of the regime, as being a ‘dynasty notorious for its disregard of human rights and support for the Wahabi form of Muslim fundamentalism.’[97] Of course, this type of language is demonstrative of both moral indictment and political outrage –in other words it characterises 2nd tier discourse- and so the arms industry would be unlikely to refer to Saudi Arabia in such terms. Two more frequent framings are those of Saudi Arabia as an ‘important market’, ‘client’ or ‘customer’ –as exemplary of the 3rd tier- or as an ‘ally’ or ‘partner’ in our ‘counter terrorism’ efforts[98]. (1st tier).

The result of framing an issue is both to define the object, or the ‘other’, and the subject: who we are.[99] When the discourse is so often framed by the 3rd tier[100] the ‘other’ it constructs is just another unproblematised customer. This has the convenient advantage of diverting our attention from the moral implications of selling billions of pounds worth of weapons systems to a human rights abusing regime.

But what of our identity? After all, there is no point using a particular discourse if there is no audience to be persuaded by it. BAE may have dropped the Union Jack from its logo, however in Britain the Union Jack remains a regular feature of its advertising. In Appendix 8 the text reads: ‘We’re investing more and more in UK manufacturing’. Embossed text on the flag claims ‘made in Britain’. The appeals to the national flag clearly identify ‘us’ as British citizens, those who will supposedly benefit from both the profits that BAE makes, and the location of manufacturing within the UK. Not only does this make uniform a heterogeneity of interests below the ‘national interest’, but it invites us to see the world though a social construction that locates BAE within a national context, and in doing so reifies the assumption that it operates as an appendage of the nation state, in the national interest, and ours alone. As the structural focus of Chapter One pointed out, this is by and large a fallacy. The perpetuation of its overtly British semiotics harks back to a time when it was a solely domestic manufacturer.[101] Its appeals are also hugely legitimising. The catch-all of appealing to national pride and national economic health is so uncontroversial that any dissent immediately appears to be anti-British. The discourse in this sense is once again waging a ‘war of position’.[102]

As I have indicated above, proving intent when engaging in a discursive analysis is difficult, and without an outright admission, cannot be substantiated empirically. Nonetheless, the appeal to Britishness is arguably entirely instrumental, even at the most fundamental level; BAE spells differently depending on the audience. In its UK materials and webpages it speaks of ‘defence’; in its corresponding US pages it uses the American spelling, ‘defense’.

‘Killing other people’ or ‘servicing the target’

To shift our focus briefly, the industry-wide rebranding of mercenaries, spearheaded by Blackwater –now, tellingly; ‘Xe’- is a related example of how a term with connotations of both greed and moral turpitude has been systemically shed from the popular discourse, in favour of more corporate, anodyne language. Blackwater –having gained notoriety in Iraq- became ‘Xe’ in early 2009. As Jeremy Scahill puts it:

‘many of the media reports at the time (and today) refer to these shadowy forces as “civilian contractors” or “foreign reconstruction workers” as though they were engineers, construction workers, humanitarians, or water specialists. The term “mercenary” was almost never used to describe them. That is no accident. Indeed, it is part of a very sophisticated rebranding campaign organized by the mercenary industry itself and increasingly embraced by policy-makers, bureaucrats, and other powerful decision makers in Washington and other Western capitals.’[103]

This is more unequivocally an example of instrumental discourse than can be found elsewhere, although prevalent in the arms industry as well. In reading BAE’s promotional materials, one is immediately hit by the persistence of technical, anodyne language. Of course, this is not peculiar to the arms trade, but it is arguably more instrumental in military related industries than in others. Stephen Poole has noted the prevalence of sanitising euphemisms, borrowing from the discourse of science, medicine and economics, in military language. In fact, as he suggests, the vocabularies of commerce and of war are generally interconnected.[104] The military has been increasingly ‘recast as a service industry [where] missiles and aircraft are ‘force packages’ and ‘delivery systems’.[105] Poole quotes one member of the US military: “I prefer not to say we are killing other people. I prefer to say we are servicing the target”.[106]

Whilst the language of the arms trade rarely focuses on the actual impact of their products, -that would be to humanize a carefully dehumanized ‘other’[107]– this same terminology, of providing ‘services’ and ‘solutions’[108] is a recurring theme. A passage from Thales’ –the UK’s second largest arms manufacturer- is indicative:

‘Thales designs and delivers systems for all four environments: air, land, sea and space. These systems detect and assess threats, manage information, support rapid command decisions and control engagements through to threat neutralisation, with maximum reliability. They are designed to simplify the coordination of assets deployed by joint and/or coalition forces and contribute to information and decision superiority.’[109]

Whilst the discourse surrounding the arms trade is ambiguous inasmuch as it uses both the language of capitalism and of national security, and inasmuch as it relies on embedded metaphor and more instrumental discourse, its strategy remains one of uniform purpose: the maintenance and reinforcement of its own legitimacy. By exploring concepts of legitimacy we can note how it operates differently on the three discursive levels. This will be the focus of the final chapter.


Chapter Four: Legitimacy

Structural and discursive corporatisation

The question, ‘what is legitimacy?’ should be answered in general terms before any analysis. As Mark Suchman puts it, ‘legitimacy is a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions.’[110] It can be resilient to particular events –for example a high-profile corruption enquiry- but it remains dependent on a history of events. It is a perception or assumption in that ‘it represents a reaction of observers to the organization as they see it; thus, legitimacy is possessed objectively, yet created subjectively.’[111] This means that legitimacy is subject to dialogue and recreation, rather than being an end-state that an entity achieves. Given its subjective creation, different sectors of society may well have different standards or understandings of legitimacy. For shareholders in BAE Systems, its adherence to free market principles and a respect for the bottom line may be sufficient grounds for being considered legitimate. For an anti-arms activist, little short of the company shutting itself down may suffice. Of course, anti-arms trade activists tend to attack the industry from the 2nd discursive tier, and so, combined with their being a relatively marginal group anyway, tend to have a limited impact on the long-term legitimacy of the arms trade.

Suchman makes some important qualifiers to his definition that are particularly pertinent in relation to the arms trade. They are worth quoting here at length:

‘An organization may diverge dramatically from societal norms yet retain legitimacy because the divergence goes unnoticed…[W]hen one says that a certain pattern of behavior possesses legitimacy, one asserts that some group of observers, as a whole, accepts or supports what those observers perceive to be the behavioral pattern, as a whole –despite reservations that any single observer might have about any single behavior, and despite reservations that any or all observers might have, were they to observe more.’[112]

The arms industry, to borrow two more terms from Suchman, tends to rely on a ‘cognitive taken-for-grantedness’[113], rather than a more invasive ‘evaluative approval’ in order to maintain its legitimacy. This entails a lower threshold to be considered legitimate, being achieved through an understanding of socialized, taken-for-granted norms within the society, and replicating them in both corporate structure and discourse.[114] It is the difference between seeking a population’s passive acquiescence and active support.[115] An industry such as the arms trade would probably incite moral disapproval if it asked for the active support of the general public. This is arguably because, without diverting attention away from both the number and nature of the regimes that it sells to –not to mention the circumstances under which the sales are often made- it would contravene the shared ‘principled belief’[116] that ‘profiting from death is wrong’. Such a foray into 2nd tier, ethical and political discourse would most likely be unsuccessful in the pursuit of legitimacy.

Therefore, in order to ensure its legitimacy the arms industry tends to rely on mimicking the discourse and corporate structures of commerce and industry, allowing it to ‘blend in’ with the corporate environment, and continue to make profit in relative peace. This kind of corporate ‘isomorphism’ is found by David Deephouse to have a strong correlation to measures of legitimacy. [117]

Before we move on to discuss the value of obfuscation as a legitimising device, there are one or two final observations we should make about non-discursive strategy. The arms trade’s use of space within British universities is also relevant. As Anna Stavrianakis argues, universities are a key organ of civil society, which helps generate consent and hegemony. Along with schools, Stavrianakis suggests, universities are one of the most ‘significant social institutions in which children and (predominantly young) adults learn the attitudes and social rules required for the perpetuation of the capitalist system.’[118] When there is such a prevailing emphasis on ‘militarised capitalism’ –the privileging of military concerns in social life, and in the university context, the privileging of military interests in the funding of science, engineering and technology R&D[119]– universities become a crucial space to be colonized by institutions and groups with competing agendas.

As Stavrianakis notes, not only does a close link between the arms industry and engineering departments exist, but non-academic investment is also significant. The 2007 Study War No More Report offers the most up to date statistics relating to university arms trade investment.[120]

The consequences of this link for legitimacy are quite profound. In applying the basic principles of the theoretical model, one can see a trend towards the de-politicising of the 2nd tier –both in terms of discourse and in terms of structural links- in the same way that we previously noted how the Industry’s adoption of CSR guidelines relocated a 2nd tier feature (juridical, and ethical guidelines) into the 3rd tier. By reducing ‘legitimacy’ to ‘legality’ in the sense that “anything legal is considered acceptable” as an investment opportunity[121], the result is one of depoliticizing the arms trade and removing ethical considerations from concepts of legitimacy. The hegemonic structures and related discourse of militarized capitalism thereby marginalizes dissent.[122]

In a Warwick University context this has translated into the mantra of  “students have a right to protest, but these companies have a right to be here as well”. Protests are not allowed to take place within the building during careers events, and security routinely ejects any protesters should they try and politicise the space as a site of contestation.[123] In effect, the university space is downgraded to a commercialized, 3rd tier environment in which the arms trade can better maintain its legitimacy.


Obfuscation as a legitimising device

‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.’ – George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language offers an acerbic critique of the increasing economisation of language, particularly when used as an obfuscatory device to ‘[defend] the indefensible’.[124] This strategy of obfuscation, rather than transparency –no matter what the industry might claim via its internal CSR reviews- is a mainstay of the arms trade’s 3rd tier discourse.

A commercialised discourse which presents itself as neither moral nor political is in itself a politically motivated strategy[125], and it is one that has become more salient in the last twenty years. During the Cold War, the national security discourse was pervasive, and structural mechanisms prevented the unfettered sale of arms based on that interest.[126] Ideological axes may have proscribed the sale of armaments from the UK to a USSR satellite, but the monolithic military budgets of the era allowed for the development of a huge global trade in weapons nonetheless. In the 1980s, the global arms industry in most advanced capitalist countries approached $1 trillion per year, of which $140 billion was sold to developing countries –mostly Iraq and Saudi Arabia.[127] Given this, there was less of a need to avoid the 2nd discursive tier, which was typified by a greater ‘cultural orthodoxy’ and ‘commonsense assumptions’[128] as to the benefits of a strong military-industrial complex.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the ‘disarmament frame’ grew in salience, to borrow from Mutimer, leading to a reconceptualisation of the arms trade. The result was an increasing emphasis on the economic benefits of an arms industry, as well as its potential commercial orientation towards dual-use technologies, and ‘spin-off’.[129] It is certainly true that the line between civil and military technology is increasingly blurred although BAE still derives over 80 percent of its revenue from military technology sales, and since 9/11 the trend has reversed towards ‘spin-in’.[130]

As an anti-arms campaigner in a university context, I have had the opportunity to speak to employees from a number of arms companies, and found that the appeals to commercial manufacturing remain pervasive. In a 2009 protest at an engineering careers fair, the Thales employee with whom I spoke claimed how his company was not an arms manufacturer. Similar claims were made by Rolls-Royce, who promote themselves as only producing engines. Whilst I would refute these claims, there are some structural considerations which strengthen their discursive appeals to commerciality. As Dunne and Freeman note, a number of arms companies have become ‘hollowed out’, ‘maintaining core design competencies at their centre, but devolving a great deal of subsidiary functions, and even actual manufacturing, to subsidiaries and sub-contractors, frequently overseas.’[131]

With the physical manufacturing of weapons taking place elsewhere, a culture has been permitted where there is a reduction in the visibility of the arms trade and an obfuscation of the nature of their work.[132] This fact combined with an industry-wide semiotic corporatisation substantiates the contention that the arms industry’s key legitimization strategy (on the 3rd discursive tier) is one of obfuscation.

BAE’s description of its ‘brand’ (see Appendix 1) is particularly (un)illuminating:

‘It’s a promise. A promise of a certain type of experience that people will have whenever and wherever they come into contact with the Company. A strong brand also makes us stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The BAE Systems brand has its foundations in our vision, our values and our strategy to build BAE Systems as the premier global defence and aerospace company. It is expressed through our identity, which uses design, imagery and language that is clear, consistent and compelling.’[133]

Aside from the single reference to ‘global defence and aerospace’ one would have little idea as to what the company actually does. As with the Blackwater/Xe rebranding[134], I would postulate that this is not accidental. In order to give some empirical weight to my hypothesis that the arms industry has sought to blend in with other corporate sectors as a means of avoiding unwanted scrutiny, I conducted a survey on twenty members of the public.[135]


Testing the theory

The aim of the survey was to determine how much name-to-industry recognition there existed relating to a number of arms companies, when all the participant has to deduce from is the name, logo, and any pre-existing knowledge they might have. My hypothesis was that most members of the public would not be able to identify any but the most famous arms companies, and with the exception of MBDA[136], only then because the discursive strategy had failed due to recent interrogation from the 2nd tier. I believe that the use of ambiguous acronyms and generic corporate semiotics support their legitimisation strategies –as typified by their reliance on ‘cognitive taken-for-grantedness’.[137]

In constructing any survey to measure people’s awareness of the arms trade it is important to understand the sensitivity involved in wording the question. This would be true of any survey, but particularly one in which the terminology we use for the signifier is the very subject of contestation.[138] In short, because words do not function as ‘containers’ dispensing objective information in a pre-discursive environment, our own ideology and experiences will inform how we react to a given word.[139] To refer simply to ‘arms companies’ in the question would be problematic. Assuming that the instrumental discourse which reframes arms companies as ‘defence groups’ is hegemonic, the vast majority of respondents would be unfamiliar with the counter-hegemonic discourse of the ‘arms trade’ and the pejorative connotations therein.[140] In order to avoid involving a presuming question, I decided to include both the terms ‘arms’ and ‘defence’.[141]

The survey chose a selection of nine arms companies and 11 companies from other sectors, ranging from consultancy and investment banking to civil engineering. These sectors were represented because they correspond not only to the same corporate style as the arms trade’s branding, but also to the arms trade’s use of space. As explored in the previous section, the arms trade consistently shares space with these industry sectors in university careers fairs.[142] They were sorted into six different lists, and each participant had explained to them that there may be anything between zero and three arms companies/defence companies represented in each list, although no one was told how many arms companies were included in total, or what my hypothesis was before answering.

The results of the survey seemed to confirm the hypothesis. The average rate[143] of correct identification was 4/9. Respondents were more aware of those companies they thought were not involved in the arms trade, although on average, each respondent incorrectly identified 12 percent of commercial companies as those in the arms trade.

The most frequently identified company was BAE, followed by Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation, and MBDA. Whilst I had expected MBDA to be identified the most because of its explicit tagline -‘missile systems’- it in fact came forth. A number of respondents who did not identify the company claimed the general design of the logo caused them to think it was just another bank or consultancy firm.

Legitimacy in security discourse

The threshold for legitimacy is low in the day-to-day practice of the arms trade, largely because it has developed a strategy of corporate isomorphism and discursive obfuscation. Its appeals to national security tend to follow some unwanted scrutiny from the 2nd tier, as we have observed in previous sections. Again, as we have noted, the 1st tier is relatively impervious to moral, political and legal scrutiny from its subordinate discourses.

One exception is found in New Labour’s appeals to an ‘ethical foreign policy’ in 1997. The application of 2nd tier ethics to the 1st tier was, of course, short-lived[144], largely because an ethical foreign policy could not include the continued sale of Hawk Jets to Indonesia, where they were most probably used as part of the atrocities in East Timor.[145] Nonetheless, the discourse of national security has not only come under (admittedly ineffectual) fire from the 2nd discursive tier. It has also used this discourse as a tool to bolster its own legitimacy.

Neil Cooper’s investigation into the ‘pariah agenda’ is indicative of this assessment. He notes how the 1997 ethical foreign policy constituted the arms trade as a sub-set of its human rights agenda: ‘the arms trade problematic has largely been framed with reference to the problem of inhumane weapons and inhumane actors.’[146] These ‘inhumane’ weapons and actors he also refers to as constituting the ‘pariah agenda’. ‘Pariah states’, for example would have included Zimbabwe or Iraq.[147] Of course, being a ‘pariah weapon’ or state is a subjective classification that can be invoked or removed based on the strategic needs of the term’s user.[148]

By focusing on landmines, cluster bombs, and other such weapons as illegitimate and in need of legal restriction or outright bans, an epiphenomenon has arisen which has legitimized ‘both the large space in to which most arms exports fall and the huge subsidies thrown at the so-called ‘legitimate’ defence trade by government.’[149] As Cooper contends, ‘at its worst…the pariah agenda represents little more than a form of totemic displacement activity which has the effect of obscuring the continued attempt to maximise arms sales and avoid debates about the real economic and security benefits to be derived from such sales.’[150]

Cooper’s theory seems valid. As Chomsky has noted elsewhere, once the spectre of communism was retired from international security discourse, it was replaced by terrorists, warlords, and Saddam Hussein.[151] The events of 11 September 2001 merely compounded this ill-defined threat.[152] As a result, the ‘defence’ industry has succeeded in holding the small arms trade up as an illegitimate ‘other’ to itself, thereby ensuring its own legitimacy in appeals to 1st tier discourse.


In this thesis I have explored the discourse surrounding the arms trade, beginning with the premise that this industry has a particularly strong need for effective legitimising strategies. In looking first at the structural trajectory of BAE Systems in the UK, I was able to question the validity of a number of the claims upon which the company relies for its legitimacy; namely its benefits to the economy and national defence. Before engaging in a discursive analysis I explored concepts of hegemony and the rationale for government support, which go some way to explaining why the discourse surrounding the arms trade remains purposively uniform in the triangle of media, government, and industry.

I then developed a theoretical model to locate the discourse of the arms trade into a number of ‘tiers’. I then applied the model to some case studies, particularly the 2006 ‘Al Yamamah’ corruption investigation, to prove its applicability as a general rule. Having identified the relative strengths of the three discursive tiers, I attempted to offer some explanations as to why national security remains relatively impervious to dissent from its subordinate tier.

Understanding discourse analysis to be inherently limited because, whilst one can make observations on language, semiotics, and develop theories of consequence, proving intend, or put another, the instrumental use of discourse is more difficult. In order to address this, I then briefly explored some concepts within structuralist linguistic theory before noting some examples of both embedded and instrumental discourse within the arms industry.

In my final chapter I focused in depth on both structural and discursive legitimising practices, relating them to their appropriate discursive ‘tiers’, supporting the contention that each strategy is defined, more or less, by a degree of obfuscation by analysing the results of a survey recording name-to-industry recognition.

It is my belief that the arms trade is illegitimate and that its everyday discursive practice appeals to widely popular ideas of patriotism, economic benefit, and British defence precisely because they are the highly ingrained concepts, and have therefore proven difficult to attack on their own terms. Any anti-arms trade movement hoping to expose the industry, and in doing so undermine its legitimacy in the UK will run into the same old challenges and dilemmas. Do we, on the one hand, conform to the hegemonic discourse and attempt to refute the claims the industry makes, in which case we may achieve some semblance of reform, and a wider public audience? Or, alternatively, do we shout from the top of our lungs outside the building, and struggle to impose a normative agenda on what has become a successfully depoliticised industrial sector?

Groups like CAAT have worked tirelessly and fastidiously for decades to bring transparency and accountability to an obfuscatory and wholly unaccountable group of companies. Those who engage in direct action against the arms trade gamble with a level of effectiveness that is unachievable by writing to our MPs and signing petitions. Activists’ acceptance of arrest, combined with a mixture of something between a bad press and no press at all, often proves alienating to a general public –who are the critical mass that confers legitimacy- who have been socialised from birth with a respect for legality, and the proper procedures.

Perhaps a diverse strategy is best. The growth of ‘new media’ is proving effective at undermining the monopoly of ‘fact’ offered by corporately owned media giants. Grass roots efforts and innovative strategies offer answers. In an increasingly ‘symbolic economy’[153] it is the sale of the brand that is paramount to the arms trade’s success –particularly when the actual costumer is most often abroad. In attacking the brand, and the brand’s legitimacy at home, we can shape, in some small way, the far-from-symbolic consequences of the arms trade abroad.


[1] A. Sampson, The Arms Bazaar: The Companies, the Dealers, the Bribes: From Vickers to Lockheed, (London, 1977), p. 14, cited in D. Mutimer, The Weapons State: Proliferation and the Framing of Security, (London, 2000)

[2] For example, see G. Lakoff, ‘Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf’, Viet Nam Generation Journal, 3(3), 1991

[3] E.F. Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, 2007, 74(3), p. 207

[4] British Aerospace became BAE Systems in November 1999, following a merger with Marconi Electronic Systems (MES) –formerly General Electric Company (GEC). Henceforth it will be referred to as BAE Systems, or BAE.

[5] The earliest archived records held by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) on BAE Systems

[6] Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, 2003, cited in M. Thomas, As Used On the Famous Nelson Mandela, (Reading, 2006), p. 120

[7] The Independent, 1 December 1989.

[8] Statistics from the Guardian, 6 February 1987.

[9] Statistics from the Financial Times, 4 August 1989.

[11] Defense News, 31 August 1987.

[12] British Aerospace, The First Ten Years, (1987), p. 4

[13] British Aerospace Annual Review 1998, p. 1

[14] BAE Systems Annual Review 1999, p. 4

[15] Ibid., p. 7

[16] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 211

[18] British Aerospace Annual Review 1998, p. 9

[19] ‘Blair Government Cancels British Aerospace-Saudi Arms Inquiry’, World Socialist Web Site, 29 December 2006.

[20] British Aerospace Annual Review 1998, p. 3

[21] CAAT News: BAE Systems Supplement, 2005.

[23] BAE Systems Annual Review 1999, p. 2-3

[24] J. Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, (London, 2008), p. 25

[25] A. Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms: The University as a Site of Militarised Capitalism and a Site of Struggle’, Millenium: Journal of International Studies, 35(1), 2006, p. 141

[26] E. Mayhew, ‘A Dead Giveaway: A Critical Analysis of New Labour’s Rationales for Supporting Military Exports’, Contemporary Security Policy, 26(1), 2005, p. 64

[28] The Observer, 4 August 1989.

[29] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 211

[30] Clare Short, quoted in Thomas, As Used On the Famous Nelson Mandela, p. 123

[33] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 141

[34] D. Mutimer, The Weapons State: Proliferation and the Framing of Security, (London, 2000), p. 239

[35] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 240

[36] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 240

[37] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 83

[38] P. Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, (London, 2004), p. 118

[39] E.S. Herman, N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, (London, 1994)

[40] Herman, Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p. 12-13

[41] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 211

[42] N. Chomsky, Media Control: the Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, (New York, 2002) p. 29

[43] Herman, Chomsky, Introduction, Manufacturing Consent, p. xii

[44] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 77

[45] R. Fisk, “Abu Henry’ What Diplomats Can Get Up To’, the Independent, 30 June 2007, cited in R. Fisk, The Age of the Warrior, (London, 2008), p. 139

[46] Private Eye, 22 December 2006.

[47] Lakoff, G., Johnson, M., Metaphors We Live By, (Chicago, 2003), p. 14

[48] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 14

[49] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 16

[50] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 16

[51] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 15

[52] F. Ferrari, ‘Metaphor at work in the analysis of political discourse: investigating a ‘preventive war’ persuasion strategy’, Discourse & Society, 18(5), 2007, p. 608

[53] N. Cooper, ‘Arms Exports, New Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, 21(3), 2000, p. 65

[54] ‘Up where we belong’ was a BAE advertising slogan used in Flight International, 14 March 1987.

[55] S. Poole, Unspeak: Words are Weapons, (London, 2007), p. 217

[56] A. Barker, ‘Practising to Deceive: Whitehall, Arms Exports and the Scott Enquiry’, The Political Quarterly, 2002, 68(1), p. 42

[57] D.L. Deephouse, ‘Does Isomorphism Legitimate?’, Academy of Management Journal, 1996, 39(4), pp. 1024-1039

[58] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 202

[59] Brendan O’Neill, Come Friendly Bombs, New Statesman, 8 January 2007, [online], (URL http://www.newstatesman.com/environment/2007/01/green-friendly-bullets-lead) accessed 27 April 2010.

[60] Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 31 December 2006.

[61] Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 31 December 2006.

[62] Fisk, ‘What Diplomats Can Get Up To’, in The Age of the Warrior, p. 139

[63] Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 31 December 2006.

[64] ‘Blair Government Cancels British Aerospace-Saudi Arms Inquiry’, World Socialist Web Site, 29 December 2006.

[65] The Guardian, December 18, 2006

[66] The Guardian, December 18, 2006

[68] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 212

[69] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 101

[70] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 107

[71] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 7

[72] Buzan et al, 1998, p. 26, cited in Ferrari, ‘Metaphor at work in the analysis of political discourse’, Discourse & Society, p. 606

[73] Ferrari, ‘Metaphor at work in the analysis of political discourse’, Discourse & Society, p. 606

[74] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 151

[75] Poole, Unspeak, p. 3

[76] G. Lakoff, ‘Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf’, Viet Nam Generation Journal, 1991 3(3), p. 3

[77] Lakoff, ‘Metaphor and War’, Viet Nam Generation Journal, p. 3

[78] Lakoff, ‘Metaphor and War’, Viet Nam Generation Journal, p. 14

[79] M. Laffey, J. Weldes, ‘Beyond Belief: Ideas and Symbolic Technologies in the Study of International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 1997, 193(3), p. 201

[80] Scahill, Blackwater, p. 204

[81] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 94

[82] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 94

[83] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 96, and also K.A. Woolard, B.B. Schieffelin, ‘Language Ideology’, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 23 (1994), p. 64

[84] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 9

[85] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 7-8

[86] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 8

[87] For example, Saussure’s contention that ‘underneath the actual manifestation of phenomena [is] a ‘hidden’ structure’ – Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 21

[88] People’s different experiences will result in different understandings of a concept or word. There is no objective truth or meaning.

[89] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 16

[90] Ives, Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, p. 17

[91] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 26

[92] Lakoff, Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, p. 5

[93] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 48

[94] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 48

[95] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 48

[96] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 49

[97] The Financial Times, 29 December 2006.

[98] Tony Blair, cited in ‘Blair Government Cancels British Aerospace-Saudi Arms Inquiry’, World Socialist Web Site, 29 December 2006.

[99] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 76

[100] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 114

[101] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 206

[102] Chomsky, Media Control: the Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, (New York, 2002), p. 25-6

[103] Scahill, Blackwater, p. 62

[104] Poole, Unspeak, p. 115

[105] Poole, Unspeak, p. 113

[106] Poole, Unspeak, p. 114

[107] G. Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’, [online], (URL http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit) accessed 14 November 2009.

[110] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 574

[111] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 574

[112] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 574

[113] For example, capitalism has arguably achieved legitimacy as ‘the best of a bad bunch’, because for there to be any other way of economic and social organisation has become all but unthinkable. See Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 578

[114] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 574

[115] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 575

[116] Laffey, Weldes, ‘Beyond Belief’, European Journal of International Relations, p. 197

[117] Isomorphism as where organizations adopt similar structures, strategies and processes. See Deephouse, ‘Does Isomorphism Legitimate?’, Academy of Management Journal, p. 1024

[118] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 142

[119] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 142

[121] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 144

[122] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 145

[123] Grace Massey, ‘Arms trade protesters removed from fair’, the Boar, 23 November 2009, [online], (URL http://theboar.org/news/2009/nov/23/arms-trade-protestors-removed-fair/) accessed 1 May 2010.

[124] Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’, [online], (URL http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit) accessed 14 November 2009.

[125] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 149

[126] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 208

[127] Byrne, ‘Assessing Arms Makers’ Corporate Social Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics, p. 208

[128] K.A. Woolard, B.B. Schieffelin, ‘Language Ideology’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 23(1), 1994, p. 58

[129] The commercial application of military technologies.

[130] Stavrianakis, ‘Call to Arms’, Millenium, p. 146, and also P. Dunne, S.P. Freeman, ‘The Impact of a Responsible Arms Control Policy on the UK Economy’, report prepared for Oxfam, March 2003, p. 8

[131] Dunne, Freeman, ‘The Impact of a Responsible Arms Control Policy on the UK Economy’, p. 9

[132] Dunne, Freeman, ‘The Impact of a Responsible Arms Control Policy on the UK Economy’, p. 9

[134] The rationale given for the change by company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell was because “the idea is to define the company as what it is today and not what it used to be”. The Blackwater name was considered to be too closely associated with its controversy-marked work in Iraq. The new name, ‘Xe’, was said by the same spokeswoman to have no meaning. See also http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/13/AR2009021303149_pf.html, accessed 29 April 2010.

[135] None of who were active in either the anti-arms movement, or engineering programmes or industry sectors. The age range and occupation of those questioned varied.

[136] Whose logo includes the tagline ‘missile systems’

[137] Suchman, ‘Managing Legitimacy’, The Academy of Management Review, p. 574

[138] J. Bell, Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education, Health and Social Science, (Maidenhead, 2005), p. 137

[139] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 23

[140] By way of a straw-person argument, I could have further invalidated the results of the survey by referring exclusively to ‘the merchants of death’. For obvious reason I chose to present the two most common subjective terms –both are politically loaded.

[141] Bell, Doing Your Research Project, p. 143. The exact wording of the question was: ‘For each of the six lists of companies, please indicate how many, if any, you think are companies involved in arms manufacturing or the defence industry.’

[142] An indicative list of the most recent attendees at the Warwick Engineering and Technology Fair (November, 2009) can be found at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/careers/events/fairs/engineering/listofattendees/accessed 30 April 2010.

[143] Both median and mode average. The mean average, less usefully, was 4.125/9

[144] Mutimer, The Weapons State, p. 51

[145] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 62

[146] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 55

[147] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 63

[148] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 63

[149] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 58

[150] Cooper, ‘Labour and the Pariah Agenda’, Contemporary Security Policy, p. 58

[151] Chomsky, Media Control, p. 43

[152] K. Jayasuriya,‘9/11 and the New ‘Anti-Politics’ of Security’, Social Science Research Council, [online], (URL http://essays.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/jayasuriya.htm) accessed 14 November 2009

[153] D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, 1990), p. 77



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