Guns of BloomsburyAnd also, below, The Bell's satirical comment, published in the same issue.
UCL Vice-Provost and Dean of RUMS Professor Spyer interviewed on UCL and the arms industry
Previously The Bell reported about UCL’s investment in the arms industry. UCL union voted in March 2006 to lobby for ethical investment. Currently, UCL has £54,000 worth of Cobham PLC shares and a stake in the London University Superannuation Agreements, which has £1million invested in BAE Systems. In addition to this, UCL runs an MSc with BAE Systems in Systems Engineering. When similar investments were exposed at SOAS, protests by students and teaching staff led to a public disinvestment. Edinburgh University, Leeds University and Oriel College Oxford are amongst other educational establishments to have adopted Socially Responsible Investment policies. Professor Spyer, UCL Vice-Provost and Dean of the medical school agreed to talk to the Bell on this issue.
How to you feel about UCL’s investments in the arms trade?
UCL has a clear investment policy regarding tobacco investment. [commensurate with] the ethical values of the institution. We are constantly reviewing our investments in accordance with these values. Companies with large multinational arrangements make a range of products and it is virtually impossibly to avoid arms involvement.
But BAE Systems specifically make weapons.
It may be that BAE Systems’ involvement with academics. [may act as a] good influence. Most certainly I don’t think there are any problems whatsoever.
Are you aware that there are ethical investment options which may produce comparable financial returns?
Many ethical policies prohibit investment in companies linked to animal testing and this is completely against what I believe in.
How would you feel if students on the MSc course that UCL runs with BAE Systems developed a new cluster bomb?
That would never occur here-
The UCL website advertises “a programme which combines academic rigour and practical experience in the Aerospace and Defence industry” which could hypothetically include weapons development.
I could give you a totally uneducated opinion on that but I don’t think it would be appropriate.
As a doctor, how do you feel about the South African government spending £3.9 billion on a deal with BAE Systems at a time when it was refusing to provide antiretrovirals for its 5million HIV positive citizens?
These are post-colonial times and I think it would be highly inappropriate for Britain to go telling sovereign countries how to spend their budgets. South Africa is an independent country which has to make decisions about its own security. If it believes it requires such defence spending to protect its own integrity it’s up to its government to decide. I would be unhappy if any country used its weapons to suppress its own peoples and I may personally believe it might be better to spend that money on HIV prevention.
BAE Systems and Cobham PLC supplied arms for the invasions of Iraq and Afganistan. Do you think UCL’s ties to these arms suppliers constitute a security risk?
Has British government’s invasion of Iraq made us less safe? My own feeling it that it has. But it’s not appropriate to link this to BAE Systems.
At one point it was allowed for UCL to invest in tobacco companies, but now this is banned. Do you accept that its stance on arms investment could change?
The tobacco decision was made on biomedical factors alone. it is possible that the arms investments may be revoked at some time in the future. I would like to add that if we go back in time, I don’t think I would want to or anyone would want to invest in companies that produced the gas chambers to kill 6 million people in World War two.
Would you choose to invest your own money in the arms industry?
Personally I would not choose to invest in the arms industry.
Comment by John Rambo, Medical Student:
If I want to fly to the U.S, I want to fly to the U.S. I don’t care if I have to wait ten hours, I spent five years in a Vietcong dungeon. Yeah, I’ve got Afghanistan on my passport (you may remember Rambo 3 when I joined forces with the Mujahadeen.), and what? It’s hard being a misunderstood Buddhist former fighting machine with post-traumatic stress disorder. The VC messed with my mind, so does Professor Spyer.
First he comes across as the voice of the establishment all “I don’t think there are any problems whatsoever”. No problems with fighting wars for oil and then acting blameless when your enemies retaliate? No problems with BAE Systems record of supplying arms for the East Timor genocide, the DRC genocide and Iraq invasion? No problems with BAE Systems rampant corruption, extreme even for the arms industry?
Just when you get him lined up in your sights, he wriggles out of each trap, coming on all “post-colonial” and even saying his answers would be “uneducated”. Then he turns 180 degrees by alluding to companies like IBM that assisted the Holocaust and being all “I would choose not to invest in the arms industry”. It’s not the hardest punch that floors you, it’s the one you don’t see coming. He turned my mind into a Moebius strip, the kind of logic Tony Blair has perfected. If I was there, I would have said, “Professor Spyer, John Rambo will treat you as a brother, as his own brother, until you give him reason otherwise, is this reason otherwise?”
If Professor Spyer was against arms investment, what could he do? As Vice-Provost and Sub-Dean does he have any say at all in the matter? If not, what does this say about who controls this University? How far has the influence of Britain’s only remaining manufacturing industry pervaded this institution, with its trumpeted links to Bentham’s Utilitarianism, and what will be the consequences?