An Italian arms firm linked to ethnic cleansing in Syria has visited Scottish schools at least 17 times over the last two years, fuelling concerns over the arms industry’s creeping influence on children’s education.
Leonardo MW is the ninth largest arms firm in the world, with a factory in Edinburgh which produces systems for F16 fighter jets.
The aircraft were used by the Turkish military last year to bomb the city of Afrin in north-east Syria – an offensive described by critics as ethnic cleansing – leading to protests by Kurds outside Leonardo’s premises in Edinburgh.
Fife Council revealed in a reply to a freedom of information request that Leonardo MW has been allowed to teach pupils and promote careers in the arms industry,
Another arms firm called Babcock has visited schools 67 times.
An aim of Scottish Enterprise – the Scottish Government’s business arm – is to increase the aerospace, defence, marine and security sectors in Scotland by between six and 10 per cent by 2020.
A key part of the strategy is to encourage more young people to choose careers in science, technology, engineering and maths, aka STEM.
But critics of the arms trade have questioned the motives of arms dealers teaching children, arguing they are trying to sanitise war in the pursuit of profit.
To have the real dealers get direct access to children normalises an industry of death which just shouldn’t be seen as normal. Ross Greer MSP
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “It’s sinister how much influence arms dealers appear to have in Fife schools. I’ve previously forced ministers and government officials to take action on dodgy ‘lesson plans’ where children role-play selling arms to the Dragons’ Den but to have the real dealers get direct access to children normalises an industry of death which just shouldn’t be seen as normal.
“I can’t imagine that while they’re in classrooms Selex mention their history of equipping the Assad regime or Raytheon discuss their role right now in arming the Saudi war machine starving millions of children to death in Yemen. Parents and pupils in Fife will want to question this influence and force the Council to take action.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Schools should never be used as advertising opportunities or propaganda platforms for companies that arm and support human rights abusing regimes and profit from war and conflict. Companies like these have filled the world with arms and are desperately trying to use classrooms to legitimise their appalling business.
“These companies don’t care about education. They are only interested in promoting their brand and whitewashing the abuses they are complicit in. Raytheon‘s weapons have played a central role in the bombing of Yemen. Their bombs have destroyed schools and killed thousands of young people. Their reps are the last people that should be invited into classrooms.”
Councillor Altany Craik, Fife Council Convener for Economy, Planning and Tourism, said: “Fife Council works with leading manufacturers in the development of STEM skills for a future Fife workforce.
“We welcome the ongoing commitment of local companies to promote STEM education in Fife through a variety of practical initiatives and competitions. These engage many students in Fife each year, inspiring them to continue their studies in science and maths-related areas and highlighting opportunities to pursue a range of careers in industry.”
Leonardo MW did not respond to our requests for a comment.
It emerged recently that US arms giant Raytheon – whose smart bomb systems made in Glenrothes have been linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen – has visited Fife schools on 81 occasions.
BAE Systems – Britain’s largest defence company and the third largest arms firm in the world – has also been allowed to offer history lessons to Scotland’s schools.
Fife Council’s FOI response
This story was published in the Sunday Post on December 30.