Comment | #StopDSEI: The UK’s support for the arms industry must end

Next week, dozens of the planet's most repressive governments will arrive in London to receive the full red carpet treatment by UK arms companies and civil servants. If we are to stop the UK’s role in fueling war and conflict around the world then it is time to end the arms sales and shut down events like DSEI for good, writes Andrew Smith.

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 10:39 - 0 Comments

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Sep 5, 2019 — Activists outside the Excel Centre protesting against nuclear weapons and to #StopDSEI (Source: Trident Ploughshares/Twitter)

The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings.” These were the words of a United Nations report, published this week, on war crimes committed in the ongoing war in Yemen.

Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal in London found that the UK Government has acted unlawfully in allowing arms sales to the Saudi regime for use in the war in Yemen. The verdict set a vital precedent, and banned future sales, but it was too late to stop the £5.3 billion worth of fighter jets, bombs and missiles that the UK had already been licensed to the Saudis.

Those weapons have played a central role in the bombardment, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, but that hasn’t done anything to deter the arms dealers. Last Sunday, Saudi-led forces bombed a prison in an atrocity that killed 100 people.

Next week the Saudi government will be in East London for Defence & Security Equipment International 2019 (DSEI), one of the biggest arms fairs in the world. They will be given the full red carpet treatment by arms companies and civil servants, who will be pulling out all the stops to promote the latest deadly equipment and sign new deals.

The UK Government has invited 67 other international delegations, including representatives from the rest of the Coalition that is bombing Yemen. They will be joined by reps from Israel, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Hong Kong, where the authorities are using UK-made tear gas against pro-democracy campaigners.

Senior civil servants will be hosting private meetings with companies and buyers, working to develop relationships and secure deals. A lot of this will be done by the Defence & Security Organisation, a little known team of 100 civil servants that are employed for the sole purpose of promoting arms exports.

It won’t just be civil servants who will be flying the flag for the UK arms industry. Government Ministers will be on hand to join-in with this paean to violence, including the Defence Minister, Ben Wallace and the International Trade Minister, Liz Truss. They will use keynote speeches to plug UK-made weapons and shamelessly boast of their unbending commitment to arming the world. Not a single word will be spared for those living under the war and repression that the attendees are responsible for inflicting.

All of the biggest companies will be present, including high-level reps from BAE Systems, Raytheon and the other companies that have profited from the bombing of Yemen. There will also be delegations from companies like Serco that have profited from the hostile environment and the systematic violence being perpetuated against migrants in the UK and beyond.

The executives will gleefully applaud every extra spending commitment and kind word from the politicians. To them this is big money, and they know that they couldn’t get away with the terrible things they do without the fundamental support of the UK Government.

The polling shows that the public are firmly opposed to these arms sales and the repression that they enable. That is why this week has seen hundreds of people taking action to disrupt the set-up of DSEI. The days ahead will see even more joining the blockades and protests to stop the military equipment from getting into the venue.

People have come from all across the UK, united by their opposition to DSEI and everything that it represents. The reason is simple: arms fairs like DSEI can never be right or acceptable. They exist to strengthen the UK’s ties to human rights abusers and dictatorships and entrench the government’s role as a global arms dealer, while providing a fig leaf of legitimacy and cover for some of the most authoritarian states in the world.

War crimes and atrocities, like those that have been carried out by Saudi forces in Yemen, would not be possible without the complicity and support of arms companies and arms exporting Governments. If we are to stop the UK’s role in fueling war and conflict around the world then it is time to end the arms sales and shut down events like DSEI for good.

 

 

 

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Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @CAATuk

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