UK | The unfair Fair

Approx read: 3 mins

Starting this week is the trade fair of death, otherwise known as DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International) in London.


London is an amazing city. There, I’ve said it. As a proud Liverpudlian I can admire if from afar – sometimes with a tinge of envy for its status as a capital city with global recognition, though in the week ahead more with a critical eye for the shame of the disgraceful business that will be done in my nation’s most prominent city.

Starting on Monday 11th is the trade fair of death, otherwise known as DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International). It’s a showcase for government representatives, despots, arms dealers and warlords to see what equipment can be bought in function of killing. The official lines from the glossy brochures read somewhat differently of course, with the headline running “Defence and Security Equipment International is the world leading event that brings together the global defence and security sector to innovate and share knowledge. DSEI represents the entire supply chain on an unrivalled scale.”

I’m not a fan of unrivalled scales of anything connected to the machine of war. And I’m not alone.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has publicly stated his wish to kick the conference out of London, and the UK if possible saying that he is opposed to London being used as a market place for “dictators and autocrats.” A spokesperson for DSEI countered Khan’s criticism with the statement, “DSEI provides an effective platform for the defence and security industry to demonstrate its products to potential UK and overseas customers in a well-regulated environment, which serves only the legitimate defence and security industry.” So although this may seem perfectly legitimate it doesn’t tally with the facts that questionable arms deals will be made in London by the world’s worst abusers of human rights. And that isn’t right.

Fighting back at this injustice is Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) an action group formed to oppose everything that DSEI represents. Starting this afternoon (7th September) CAAT is mobilising at the event location to share their plan of action to disrupt the DSEI fair. An alternative ‘border force’ is planned that will create a human blockade to prevent entry to exhibitors and participants, followed by daily events to raise public awareness of the event, the buyers and sellers, and the illegal weapons and devices of torture that are bought and sold in the heart of London.

The key issues are summarised by CAAT.

The arms trade is dominated by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, UK and the US, along with Germany and, increasingly, Israel. The permanent members alone account for around three quarters of exported arms.

While relatively few countries sell large volumes of weaponry, the buyers are spread across the world. Some of the largest purchasers are in the Middle East and South and East Asia. The sales range from fighter aircraft, helicopters and warships with guided missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles to machine guns and rifles. They also include components and surveillance equipment.

There is often confusion about the legality of the arms trade, with the impression given that it is the illegal trade that is damaging while the legal trade is tightly controlled and acceptable. However, the vast majority of arms sold around the world, including those to human rights abusing governments or into conflict areas, are legal and actively supported by governments. . But let’s face it, putting on a slick business suit doesn’t make what is being bought and sold any less likely to kill people.