Disarming DSEI

Andrew Smith writes about the campaign against London’s biennial arms fair and ending the worldwide arms trade

August 25, 2015
4 min read

disarm-dseiHundreds of people form a blockade at the gates of the last arms fair at the Excel Centre. Photo: CAAT

This September will see one of the world’s largest arms fairs rolling into London, as the UK plays host to Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI). The biannual event will bring thousands of arms companies’ representatives together with mercenaries, generals and military delegations from some of the worst dictatorships in the world.

The guest list for this year’s event has not been released yet, and won’t be until it starts, but among the delegations in 2011 and 2013 were a whole range of brutal and authoritarian regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Libya. Six of the countries in attendance in 2013 were at war at the time, and nine were listed as among those with ‘the most serious wide‑ranging human rights concerns’ in the government’s own Human Rights and Democracy Report.

The companies they met with were every bit as bad. They included BAE Systems, which has a long history of arming dictatorships, MBDA, a missile company that armed Colonel Gaddafi, and Raytheon, whose bombs have been used against Palestinians. Despite Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza last summer, it will host a pavilion to market its ‘battle-tested’ weapons.

Secrecy not scrutiny

If there’s one thing the organisers hate, it’s scrutiny. That’s why the gathering always takes place in secret, hidden behind heavily protected security fences and police lines – designed to allow arms dealers to trade their wares unhindered by transparency or public protest. Journalists are closely followed throughout, and some, like Jason Parkinson from the Guardian, have been removed for asking tough questions.

Unfortunately the organisers of this carnival of the grotesque will be supported every step of the way by the government. Government ministers will be key to the promotion of DSEI. So will UK Trade & Investment’s Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), a 130-strong government department that exists solely to help arms companies to sell their products worldwide. UKTI DSO is responsible for coordinating the presence of Ministry of Defence officials and military representatives, as well as inviting international delegations.

These arms sales are not just numbers on a spreadsheet; they have deadly results. We always hear about how ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ the UK’s arms export policy is claimed to be, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Last summer the then business secretary Vince Cable admitted it was likely UK weapons had been used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Similarly, at the time of writing, UK weapons are being used in the ongoing Saudi bombing campaign against the people of Yemen.

Brave campaigners

Over recent years UK equipment has been linked to crackdowns and human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Bahrain, Egypt and Kuwait. The only reason that any of these allegations have been made public hasn’t been because of any openness on the part of the government or the arms companies; it is because of the brave work of journalists and campaigners on the ground.

It is because of their bravery that we need to take action. When DSEI took place in 2013 it was met by thousands of activists. Entrances were blocked in a day of action that meant weapons needed to be turned away. This year there will be a whole week of action in the run-up to the arms fair with the aim of stopping it from setting up and even taking place.

Events like DSEI can never be legitimate or acceptable. Not only do they strengthen the UK’s ties to dictatorships and entrench the government’s role as a global arms dealer, they also provide credibility for some of the most authoritarian states in the world. Most importantly, they put weapons and surveillance equipment in the hands of abusive despots and send out the message that human rights and democracy are less important than arms firms’ profits.

DSEI is set to return to east London on 15-18 September 2015, and activists are already working to stop it. For more information about how you can take action against DSEI, visit stopthearmsfair.org.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform


144