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Who profits from the Atomic Weapons Establishment? January 10, 2013

Tom Anderson

“The corporation’s… legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause to others.” – Joel Bakan[1]

Corporations have attained an unprecedented power within our societies. Our health, the clothes we wear, work, time off, government policies and political influence, the food we eat and the culture and values we absorb, military policies, surveillance and security are all increasingly controlled and mediated by the needs of profit-driven corporations and the ideology of the primacy of the pursuit of profit.

The expansion of corporate power requires an increased militarisation of society. From new wars over natural resources to imperial interventions to neuter popular uprisings, the corporate-driven militarisation of national and international politics continues apace. Corporations benefit from state military and colonial policies, profiting from the contracts created by military operations and by providing security technology and services for an increasingly militarised world. Military ventures prompt the development of new technologies of repression which can be marketed and sold for profit. Our fears and insecurities are utilised in corporate marketing rhetoric to sell new military, surveillance and security technologies.

The militarisation of society is changing the face of modern warfare. Drone technology[2] has allowed the US and Israel to wage war in Gaza, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan without ever needing to set foot on enemy soil.[3] The same drone technology has been used to protect corporate assets, for example Chevron’s oil fields in Angola. Weaponry developed in the context of military occupation and on the battlegrounds of the war on terror is increasingly pervading everyday life in the Global North. Non-lethal weaponry developed by international companies and tested against social movements in Palestine in the context of military occupation[4] have been used against anti-corporate protesters in the US[5] and marketed for use against rioters in the UK.[6]

Nuclear weapons are another comparatively new and constantly developing technology which has fundamentally changed the balance of global politics. These weapons have the capacity to kill hundreds of thousands of people indiscriminately and render natural environments uninhabitable. However their manufacture, deployment and development is done for private profit.

The development of nuclear weapons technology has been internationally condemned. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which caused the deaths of over 200,000 people, social movements in Japan began to call for a ban on nuclear weapons.[7] In the UK grassroots movements have been resisting the development of nuclear weapons technology since the first peace marches to Aldermaston almost 55 years ago.[8] In 1996 the United Nations asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for its opinion on whether nuclear weapons were legal. The resultant ICJ judgement stated that nuclear weapons could never be used legally within international law and that to threaten the use of thermonuclear weapons was illegal within international humanitarian law.[9] Despite this nuclear weapons continue to be deployed. Nuclear weapons technology and the expansion of nuclear weapons facilities has proved a lucrative market for private corporations. In the UK further opportunities for corporate profit from nuclear weapons were created by the privatisation of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in 1993.[10]

AWE is managed by the Ministry of Defence but is currently subcontracted to AWE Management Ltd (AWE ML), which, in turn, contracts to AWE PLC. AWE ML was awarded a 10-year contract to manage AWE in April 2000. This was extended in 2003 and is now set to run until March 2025.[11] The company manages three sites at Aldermaston, Burghfield and Blacknest.[12]

AWE PLC is a consortium of private companies which manufactures and maintains the warheads for the UK’s nuclear weapons system, Trident. Since 2008, the consortium has been made up of SERCO, Jacobs Engineering and Lockheed Martin UK who hold an equal share.[13] The government of the UK holds a golden share in the company.[14]

SERCO is a British company specialising in providing public services under government contract.[15] They have been a major beneficiary of successive British government’s drives to privatise public services and contract out functions previously carried out by the state. SERCO currently hold contracts in the military, healthcare, leisure, prisons, local government and education sectors.[16]

With regard to the military SERCO doesn’t just manage the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Facility, the company also facilitates naval access to, and operates vessels at, Faslane, Devonport and Portsmouth Naval Bases, where nuclear weapons are deployed ready for use. It also provides services to several military bases across the UK including RAF Fylingdales, where it maintains the UK’s ‘Anti Ballistic Missile Warning System’ and the joint RAF/US Department of Defence operation at Menwith Hill.[17] In 2007 the government announced that Menwith Hill would become part of the US’ Missile Defence System.[18] Thus SERCO is, in effect, directly involved in maintaining the UK and US’s illegal threat of a nuclear strike and, consequently, in maintaining military hegemony through the threat of offensive action.[19]

A map of SERCO’s business in the UK can be found at

Lockheed Martin UK is a subsidiary of the US firm Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms company operating in 75 countries[20] with annual military sales of close to $40 billion.[21] Lockheed Martin specialises in military aircraft, missiles and munitions. The company operates nuclear weapons systems in the US and the UK.[22]

Lockheed Martin’s slogan is “we never forget who we’re working for”, and its not hard to see who that might be as the company is the largest recipient of US defence contracts and does 60% of its work for the US Department of Defence.[23] The company manufactures the F-16[24] and is developing the new F-35[25] fighter planes, which are being supplied to human rights abusers like the Israeli[26] and Turkish[27] governments as well as the US[28] and UK.[29] In 2009 it received 7.1% of total Pentagon funding.[30]

In 2011 anti-militarist campaigners refused to participate in the UK national census due to the decision to award the £150 million government contract to Lockheed Martin.[31] The company has also been involved in running census programmes in the US.[32]

A map of some of Lockheed Martin’s UK locations can be found at and

For more info on Lockheed Martin see

Jacobs Engineering is a US company engaged in construction, engineering and provision of services to governments with annual revenues in excess of $10 billion.[33] Jacobs is the newcomer in the AWE Plc consortium, buying out British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) in 2008. The sale prompted concern that AWE is now majority controlled by US corporations.[34]

All three members of AWE Plc are profiting from producing and maintaining nuclear warheads which are used to maintain a constant threat that they could be used with the aim of ensuring military dominance by those states which possess nuclear technology over those which do not. The operations of these three companies can be resisted. For instance SERCO runs public services across the UK and campaigners could attack its capacity to continue obtaining profitable local government contracts while it remains a partner in AWE Plc.

[1] Joel Bakan (2004), The Corporation, pp. 1-2.
[2] Drones are unmanned aircraft. Many drones are armed with guns, missiles or bombs.
[3] See, for instance
[7] Jim Falk (1982), Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power, p. 98.
[9] John Mayer (2002), Nuclear Peace: The Story of the Trident Three, pp. 1-2.
[14] A golden share is a nominal share which is able to outvote all other shares in certain specified circumstances.
[18] and
[21] and
[26] See and
[27] and
[31] See and
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