Next month the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair will be descending on east London. Thousands of campaigners will be there to disrupt it, with a full week of action planned to stop the set-up. Here are ten reasons why you should join the campaign to shut down DSEI for good.
1. DSEI will bring some of the world’s most repressive regimes to London.
The guest list for DSEI will include some of the most brutal and authoritarian dictatorships in the world. Among those invited in 2015 were military representatives from Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, countries which all have appalling human rights records.
2. The buyers will include countries that are currently at war.
DSEI 2015 included delegations from six countries that were at war at the time of the arms fair. The deals made at events like DSEI can only fuel and exacerbate conflict, and, as always, it will be civilians who pay the price.
3. The fair will bring these regimes together with all of the world’s biggest arms companies.
Senior representatives and executives from all of the biggest arms companies will be at DSEI. 2015 saw 1500 different exhibitors from around the world, and according to the official exhibitor list, all ten of the top arms-producing and military services companies will be in attendance this year. These companies will only have one thing on their mind: arms sales.
4. These include companies that are profiting from war and conflict around the world.
Many of the arms companies in attendance will be those actively fuelling and profiting from human rights abuses and repression. Few companies will have as big a presence as BAE Systems, Europe’s biggest arms company. BAE’s fighter jets are playing a central role in the ongoing Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, a bombardment which the UK has armed and supported since day one. They will be joined by Raytheon, which is making many of the bombs being dropped by Saudi forces.
5. These same companies are also directly profiting from the refugee crisis.
Arms companies aren’t just profiting from war and conflict – they’re also profiting from the refugee crisis these wars have created. The ‘border security’ market is worth £13.5bn per year, with many of the biggest profiteers, such as Airbus and Finmeccanica/Leonardo, heading to DSEI.
6. The weapons on display at DSEI are used to commit some of the world’s worst atrocities.
The equipment on display will range from sniper rifles and tear gas to tanks, combat aircraft and warships. Elbit Systems will be displaying many of the same drones that have been used in the occupation of Gaza, which will be marketed as ‘battle tested’.
7. The weapons sold at DSEI could end up fuelling abuses for years to come.
There is no way of knowing how the arms sold at DSEI will be used, or who they will be used against. A recent report from Amnesty International found that Isis has obtained arms from at least 25 different countries, including the UK. That’s because the lifespan of weapons is often longer than that of governments or the political situation they are sold into. There can be no such thing as arms control once weapons enter a war zone.
8. DSEI couldn’t happen without the active support of Whitehall and Downing Street.
This year’s DSEI will include keynote speeches from government ministers and military personnel, including the Minister for International Trade Liam Fox and the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Sponsors include the Ministry of Defence and the Department of International Trade, which will invite attendees and use the fair as a chance to push for major arms deals. DSEI simply wouldn’t be possible without this kind of high-level support.
9. People in the UK don’t want it.
All the polling shows the overwhelming majority of people in the UK are opposed to the government promoting and exporting arms to human rights abusers. We need to mobilise public opinion and make clear to arms dealers that they are not welcome.
10. We can only stop it by working together.
DSEI may be a major part of the arms trade calendar, but it’s not unstoppable. In 2008, the Asia-Pacific Defence and Security Exhibition (AIDEX) was cancelled due to “the cost of security” and “the possible threats of violence” (apparently the irony of accusing the people peacefully protesting the arms fair of violence was lost on its organisers). It’s easy to lose hope when facing such powerful interests as the global arms trade, but the AIDEX story shows that popular protest and people power can, and does, work.
In 2015, hundreds of people took part in a huge week of action to stop the set-up of DSEI – the biggest-ever protests against the arms fair. For six days entrances were blockaded, disrupting the set-up of the fair. In 2017, the protests will be even bigger and – with your help – it could be shut down for good.
A week of action will be taking place to stop DSEI, with protests and blockades planned for the days preceding the arms fair. Find out how you can get involved at www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk.
Andrew is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.