Owen from Greater Rushmoor Against War speaks out about the arms fair happening right on their doorstep- and tells you how you can support the campaign and the Day of Action on March 28th.
If you wanted evidence of just how effective sustained protest against the arms trade can be, look no further than the campaign run by Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair. With the promise of a day of creative action à la prior protests in Cardiff and Bristol, Birmingham NEC were pressured into stating that it was ‘more appropriate for DPRTE to be hosted at a more self-contained venue.’ The fact that this arms fair cannot be held in public space anymore is testimony to the general antipathy the general public holds for this amoral trade. It is for this reason that DPRTE 2019 now finds itself behind the chainlink fence of the ‘high security’ Farnborough Exposition and Conference Centre.
With its aerospace pedigree, it is no great surprise that it should now fall to Farnborough to host this controversial arms fair. Samuel Cody made the first British aeroplane flight at Farnborough airfield in 1908, whilst in the first world war the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) was founded here – a research branch of the MoD that developed the Hawker Hurricane that was instrumental in securing victory in the Battle of Britain. In more recent history, Farnborough has also played host to its biannual Air Show since 1948. This is the second largest airshow in the world, and has become synonymous with the global arms trade through the presence of such arms manufacturers as Raytheon and BAE Systems (who maintain a strong presence in Farnborough) with military delegations from governments the world over.
So what is this new event that appears to have snuck its way onto Farnborough’s calendar? The Defence Procurement, Research and Technology and Exportability Convention (DPRTE) is a MoD backed event that started in 2012. It allows multinational arms manufacturers, smaller research firms and worldwide distributors to ‘showcase products,’ ‘transfer knowledge’ and advise one another on how best to export their products. Amongst those firms in attendance will be:
- Raytheon, who help bombs to drop on Gaza’s civilian population.
- Airbus, whose new military capable Zephyr drone is capable of flying at stratospheric heights for a month at a time.
- BAE Systems, who continue to sell their Typhoon jets to the Saudi regime despite the demonstrable use of these fighters against unarmed Yemeni women and children.
The clear immorality of many of the firms who will attend DPRTE (or the air show for that matter) leads the organisers of these events to intentionally mislead the public as to their true nature, as they know without this deception they would be subject to the ire of the masses. The air show runs a family day as a polite veneer to the networking, profiteering and arming of state terrorists and their enablers that goes on hidden from
the public gaze. However, organisers have recently revealed the true focus of the event, cancelling the public airshow weekend while renewing their promotion of the five day arms fair that traditionally led up to the weekend, and which the event is actually centred around.
Similarly, DPRTE attempts to obfuscate its true nature through semantics, with organisers previously claiming that it cannot be an arms fair because there are no live munitions and that no money will change hands on site. Instead, those attending will just showcase their wares, talk about cooperating with one another and figure out who they are exporting to. The money can just change hands when they go for dinner afterwards…
War starts at Farnborough
Our upcoming protest against DPRTE ‘19 on March 28th is not just a case of not in my backyard. It represents a struggle against a far greater injustice that has ramifications the world over. The Farnborough expo centre’s tagline is ‘it starts at Farnborough,’ and they couldn’t be any closer to the truth. War does start here.
The fair could not happen without support from the UK Ministry of Defence and the Department of International Trade, who are listed as event ‘partners’ but also attend as prospective buyers alongside the US Defence Department. The wars the UK has waged, such as those in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, have caused devastation and fuelled further conflict. To exert militaristic force against a civilian population requires a supply of military power. Arms companies are complicit in the nullification of the fundamental rights all humans should possess; all they care about is the ‘development of business opportunities within a marketplace worth over £20 billion annually.’
And it’s not just UK militarism that causes devastation; many of the firms who will attend this event have extremely close business ties with some of the most abusive regimes across the globe. In fact, our current government is trying to strongarm other nations to lift sanctions they have placed on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for the good of the arms trade
“It is shameful that four years after the escalation of the armed conflict in Yemen, the US, UK, France and other European countries continue to sell arms to members of the coalition, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” says Yemeni Human Rights activist Radhya Almutawakel, the chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. Their recent report ‘“Day of Judgement”: The Role of the US and Europe in Civilian Death, Destruction, and Trauma in Yemen’ highlights international complicity in the Saudi coalition attacks on Yemen.
“These countries have a choice to make” says Almutawakel; “take the side of Yemeni civilians and prioritise justice and peace, or continue fuelling the war with weapons and emboldening war criminals with impunity.”
Arms sales don’t enhance security: they fuel conflict, support repression and make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. And in the face of looming climate catastrophe, the co-opting of the brightest mathematicians, scientists and engineers into the production of tools that are measured by their lethality is nothing short of a tragic waste of human potential. Instead of helping to develop a better future for all, they instead commit themselves to propping up a trade that depends on world peace being an impossibility.
It would be prescient to remember that Farnborough, with its aerospace pedigree, and its neighbour Aldershot – touted as the home of the British Army since the mid 1800s – are towns with clear military ties. Many may not be seduced by arguments of world peace or “swords to ploughshares,” and some may stress that this industry is fundamental to our national security. But there is opposition to the arms trade from those who have served in the armed forces too, with the organisation Veterans for Peace making an appearance at the protests against the DSEI arms fair in London in 2017. Their insight into the military led directly to their radical stance of solidarity, with founder Ben Griffin stating “As a result of our collective experiences, we firmly believe that war is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century.”
There is no moral framework in which this global arms trade is anything other than abhorrent. It is for this reason that we will be protesting outside the Farnborough DPRTE 2019, the Farnborough DPRTE 2020, DPRTE 2021 and any other arms fair that comes to our front door, because they will never be welcome here. They will never be welcome anywhere.
If you wish to join us in protest on March 28th, find out more here.