We can all speak out against the arms fair

On Tuesday (13 September), one of the world’s largest arms fairs will open in London. The London arms fair – known euphemistically as Defence & Security International (DSEi) – will see some of the world’s most vicious regimes and active warmongers send delegations to London to view arms and make deals.

UK-based companies, along with many others,  will be taking the opportunity to display their wares, in an era in which over 90% of all people killed in war are civilians.

The guest list for DSEi has yet to be published. In previous years, it has included representatives from Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, Bahrain and Gaddafi’s Libya.

Ministers’ support for the Arab Spring is about to ring hollow as regimes such as these again turn up at the Excel Centre in east London. They are likely to be addressed by the “Defence” Secretary, Liam Fox.

DSEi, which takes place every two years is now owned by Clarion Events (who also run the Baby Show). The previous owners, Reed Elsevier, sold the fair after a sustained campaign by their customers, their shareholders, members of the public and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

DSEi is organised with political and financial support from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of Vince Cable’s Department for Business. UKTI devotes more staff to promoting arms exports than to all sectors promoting civil exports, even though arms make up only 1.5% of UK exports.

UKTI took over responsibility for promoting arms exports following the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), a unit of the Ministry of Defence that was a commonly seen as a lobbying channel for the arms industry. DESO closed following years of campaigning by CAAT, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and other groups.

As the campaign successes with Reed Elsevier and DESO show, the arms dealers do not always have it all their own way. As the power of Clarion Events and UKTI illustrates, there is still a long way to go.

The first major protest is this afternoon. There will be a nonviolent demonstration outside the Royal Bank of Scotland, who are sponsoring a seminar for arms dealers to explore “opportunities” for arms sales in the Middle East. The seminar has been moved to a secret location to avoid campaigners. (See http://thefriend.org/article/a-secret-location).

Over the following week, there will be range of protests – whether you prefer a lawful march, civil disobedience, lobbying your MP or joining in street theatre, there will be a way to make your voice heard. Please see http://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk for a list of planned events.

If you can’t make it to London, you can lobby your MP at home, write to your local paper, call a radio phone-in or protest outside a local arms factory.

And you can tell other people how outraged you are by the arms fair – this is often the most vital action.

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