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Opinion

A ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ does not have bomb making factories on its soil

15 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo Anas-Mohammed

Stephen Price

Earlier this month, Nation.Cymru published a news item about the building of a bomb-making facility at a controversial Welsh arms factory which started more than six months ago without planning permission. 

The oversight came to light after weapons manufacturer BAE Global Combat Systems Munitions Limited belatedly put in an application for planning permission for the building, which is says ‘could lead to 50 new jobs’.

King Arthur Approved

The site at Glascoed, near Pontypool in Torfaen was originally developed in 1938 as a bomb-filling factory for the Royal Navy in the run-up to World War Two, and has continued to supply ammunition to UK troops since it was privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s. 

The site is said to employ over 500 people, and their little write up on their website conjures images of Welsh history and poetry. A romantic bomb making facility.

In their own words: “The BAE Systems Glascoed facility sits amidst rolling hills of Monmouthshire, between Pontypool and the market town of Usk. This is an area where King Arthur ruled, Romans bathed, Normans set up home and pilgrims came to worship.”

Gaza

Planning applications for new developments at the factory – which has been picketed by peace protesters opposed to arms sales to Israel following the start of the conflict in Gaza – aren’t published in the usual way on Monmouthshire County Council’s dedicated planning website. 

Instead, members of the public have to book an appointment, through the council planning department, to see the plans, and aren’t allowed to make any copies or publish any of the plans “due to the sensitive nature of the site”. 

The application for a “building to house munitions assembly” and to create “surrounding blast mounds” was submitted in December 2023 without any documents accompanying it on the council’s website.

Council planners, unlike Joe public, have been aware of the development since at least 15 June 2023 when the arms firm sought “pre-application advice”.

‘Not democratic’

The application was spotted by local resident Charlotte Fleming who said she was concerned at the lack of information available  – and that a deadline for members of the public to comment was due to close on Wednesday, 10 January.

Ms Fleming told Local Democracy Reporter, Twm Owen: “My concern is it isn’t democratic and the planning system is supposed to be. This doesn’t seem to be transparent.” 

‘Defence stocks’

While this local war rages on between a few members of the public vs the powers that be, the rest of Wales has been left out of the loop.

And not only out of the loop, but possibly, or possibly not if we look at recent events in Llanelli, remained content with the widely held belief that Wales is a nation of peace – a Nation of Sanctuary.

The Welsh Government has lofty (or should that be wafty?) aims to become the world’s first ‘Nation of Sanctuary’, a plan endorsed by the United Nations.

At the time, a spokesperson said: “Our vision is of a Wales in which wherever people seeking sanctuary go, they are met with welcome, understanding and celebration of their unique contribution to the rich tapestry of Welsh life.”

Palestinian Children. Image: David Masters

The UK has international legal responsibilities to protect refugees. The Welsh Government is required by the devolution settlement to comply with these obligations.

Alongside 148 other countries, the UK is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a global treaty overseen by the United Nations.

Like the Welsh Government, we are quick to wash our hands of conflict abroad, and our go-to position as a nation that has suffered from the effects of colonisation and subjugation is that we aren’t like that. We are the good guys!

But while we are part of the UK, and while we send our youngsters to fight in foreign conflicts, and while we build bomb factories and reap the financial rewards here in Wales, I’m very sorry to say that we are complicit.

Responding to the controversial Illegal Migration Bill in Spring of last year, a spokesperson from the Welsh Government said: “Wales is a Nation of Sanctuary with a long history of welcoming refugees, and we continue to value and benefit from their skills, entrepreneurial spirit and the sharing of their cultures.

“It’s vitally important for the future of Wales that we harness the ability of all that come to make a new life here.”

And why might they be seeking a new life here? One might ask.

Spin

I personally think Wales’ aim to be a Nation of Sanctuary is quite admirable. I have also been heartened to see that the Senedd has called for a ceasefire in Palestine.

However, I cannot quite grasp how we can make such bold claims and demands that have no merit while we have arms factories here on our soil.

For my sins, I come from a background in public relations and I know how spin and marketing work.

And however we spin it, we are complicit in wars abroad, whether hidden from sight or under the red white and blue of the Union Jack through the sinister and immoral creation of bombs and ammunition on Welsh soil.

Whether it’s ‘Janet’ from a few doors down punching buttons or checking for quality control in a factory a few times a week, or ‘Dai’ dropping a couple of deliveries off on his rounds, we cannot claim to be the good guys. Ych a fi!

Just as people from Wales benefitted from the slave trade, however and wherever and on a macro or micro scale, we are benefitting from wars abroad today.

‘Blood on our hands’

I don’t want those 50 extra jobs on my doorstep, I’m sorry. For me or for anyone else. It’s not either this or the dole queue, either – if our economy were to be reliant on the making of and selling of arms then it would be a sick nation indeed, and one I would want no part of.

While we are forced to witness the scenes of devastation in Palestine and growing tensions across the Middle East – in Yemen and Lebanon – from the sidelines, I want to know that the people of my communities, and the people who have branded Wales a Nation of Sanctuary are able to look these people in the eye and tell them that we did all we could. That it wasn’t all just spin.

That we not only offer them asylum and shelter and love, but that we aren’t a reason for them seeking asylum in the first place. That we don’t have blood on our hands.

To call Wales a ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ while we make bombs that kill men, women and children and drive others to our shores to seek that very sanctuary is both absurd and revolting.

We can’t have it both ways, so which is it to be?


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Another Richard
Another Richard
1 month ago

Perhaps Nation of Sanctimony would be more accurate? The fact is that the world is a rough place and getting rougher. The writer goes on about Gaza but strangely ignores Ukraine, a thousand miles closer to home and invaded by a country that has shown itself to be our enemy by murdering people on British soil; would Mr Price refuse to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself?

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago

Ukraine has already had a large amount of military aid including illegal cluster bombs provided by the US,yet Armenia received nothing to defend itself against the Military offensive by Azerbaijan.

Cameron Wixcey
Cameron Wixcey
1 month ago
Reply to  Johnny Gamble

3 points:
Nagarno karabakh was not recognised by the uk and most of the world as either armenian or an independent state and was not part of Armenia proper.
2: can’t sell/give weapons to people who don’t want to buy your stuff (considering they used soviet/russian weaponary)
Lastly, our missles are not compatible with their misspe launchers so wouldn’t be useful anyway.

4 points actually that all the Armenians fled Nagarno karabakh before we could even have loaded a missle to get there.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
1 month ago

Trouble is once you supply them with the weapons, how are you going to ensure they only use them for defence, not to kill people possibly including non-combatants?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

That is a good question and, in my opinion, the moment you fire a weapon or drop a bomb in/on another country it then ceases to be defence!

G Horton-Jones.
G Horton-Jones.
1 month ago

At this moment in time we in Wales have nothing in place to provide for anything approaching the civil defence of our own citizens.
This cannot continue
No one should use our country to produce weapons for use on and by other countries
We the people of Wales are the only people who can make these decisions
This is clearly a breach of International Law as Wales was annexed to England by England’s monarch and no one here had any say in the matter

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
1 month ago

Nation of Sanctuary: by the tone of the article, obviously not if one is Jewish.

lufcwls
lufcwls
1 month ago

*Zionist

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago
Reply to  lufcwls

Absolutely, There’s a massive difference between a Zionist and a Jewish person.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

I would like to see the BAE Systems Glascoed facility demolished and replaced with a community centre to welcome refugees & asylum seekers (something like Oasis in Caerdydd).

I also fully support the idea of Cymru as a Nation of Sanctuary, however this could only ever be achieved by independence as westminster gets nastier and nastier regarding refugees & asylum seekers.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago

Do we actually know that the armaments produced in Wales are being delivered to Israel for use against Palestinians? There is a huge difference between the production of munitions and their export and use, and also a hell of a lot of nuance about arms exports as well. For example, I would be 100% in agreement with the author if they are discussing arms sales to Israel, but completely opposed if it were Ukraine in the picture. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular conflict the fundamental question is the right of a nation to self-defence, the right to… Read more »

Another Richard
Another Richard
1 month ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

An excellent comment, except about food from sub-Saharan Africa. There are arguments against such imports based on “food miles”, but basically it is no more exploitative to bring in beans from Kenya than peppers from the Netherlands. Growing such cash crops provides livelihoods for farmers and gives people a reason to stay rather than seek a living elsewhere. There is really no comparison with Ireland at the time of the Famine.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago

The food miles are the least of my concerns in this instance, though I’d much prefer it if such foodstuffs were processed locally into finished products and then exported by sea rather than as fresh products exported by air. Much of the food produced in this way is to support loan payments on national debts at the behest of the World Bank and IMF. Local food production is undermined by the widespread availability of cheap subsidised food produced in the USA and then dumped on the African market. Most of the food so produced benefits local workers very little, and… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Padi Phillips
lufcwls
lufcwls
1 month ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

If Wales had more control of her affairs then the decision on where these munitions go could be addressed. But we don’t, we hand them over to the ‘UK’ and they decide who they want to bomb. So the question is, until that changes what do we do to not be absurd and hypocritical?

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago
Reply to  lufcwls

All we can do is be aware of how things are and voice our opposition/displeasure and maybe work a little harder to foster support for self-determination.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

If you ask me Rishi, Lord Dave and the rest of the UK’s 1% think of themselves as on the next level Homo Superior…

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

They think of themselves as Homo Superior, whe in reality it’s Homo Selfish Nastius

Cameron Wixcey
Cameron Wixcey
1 month ago

The odd delusions of pacifists.
Might makes right and all progressive ideas and underpinned by violence.
Disagree with the law and it will send a guy with a stick to beat you into acceptance.

Anyone who thinks a free Wales should be disarmed is ignoring that the best way for small states to stay free is to be heavily armed. It works for Finland, Switzerland and Singapore and controversially Israel. Guns are the only thing stopping Ukraine becoming part of Russia again.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Cameron Wixcey

You are wrong.

Costa Rica abolished its armed forces and it is thriving (and it is doing some brilliant work for its fauna and flora).

There is nothing to suggest that the same could happen here in Cymru

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

I meant there is nothing to suggest that the same couldn’t happen here.

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Davies
Cameron Wixcey
Cameron Wixcey
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

History is littered with massacres because some group neglected their armed forces and hoped things would stay peaceful. Sadly, armies take years to build and political situations can change faster. Germany went in 10 years from accepting its Western borders to overrunning most of Western Europe. Denmark and Norway who neglected their armies fell.

So would you rather have an unused army or wish you did have one?

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Lol

Cameron Wixcey
Cameron Wixcey
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Costa rica is guarded by America, so all they have done is hope Americans will die to save them and what happens of their situation changes considering effective professional armies take decades to build.
How is it fair to rely on someone else to fight your battles because you are unwilling to?
The army is the ultimate insurance policy.

Cameron Wixcey
Cameron Wixcey
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Final point, is costa rica really without an army if its police have heavy machine guns like 30 cals or is the army a paramilitary force?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
30 days ago
Reply to  Cameron Wixcey

Costa Rica abolished its armed forces in 1948. It has been a politically stable country ever since (compared to other central & south american countries that have suffered military coups—many covertly backed by the usa). It doesn’t depend on america to guard it, having armed forces when you are small country doesn’t provide much when faced with a bigger adversary.! When conflict arises, it refers to, and abides with, international bodies like the international cout of justice. The country has invested in education, with 98% literacy, and health care giving 80.1 year life expectancy, with fully funded universities & hospitals.… Read more »

Last edited 30 days ago by Richard Davies
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
28 days ago

Thucydides and the Melian Dialogue. Big Athens and Little Melos, often quoted in such circumstances…

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