How I (nearly) got into an arms trade conference

How shameless is the government’s arms sales unit? Even as ordinary people across the Middle East are laying down their lives in the struggle for democracy, UKTI DSO organises a seminar to help arms companies to sell weapons to the repressive regimes of the region.

The event was called Middle East: A vast market for defence and security companies, it was presented by London Chamber of Commerce, and it was to be hosted in the City of London by Royal Bank of Scotland. (The very same RBS that Amnesty International recently forced to stop financing the makers of cluster bombs.)

MIDDLE EAST: A VAST MARKET FOR UK DEFENCE AND SECURITY COMPANIES

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DSEI: playground of the power elite

Brenda Heard of Friends of Lebanon on how arms fairs, such as DSEI, fuel conflict worldwide.

The images have become commonplace. Pick-up trucks laden with rocket launchers and machine guns.  Dusty men with their rifles, poised as so many Rambos. Billows of smoke that linger after the bomber has flown on to its next target. These are the images of contemporary conflict. Differences of socio-political opinion are settled by bloody confrontation.

True, violent conflict is as old as mankind itself. True, self-defence is a necessity, even a responsibility. But the business of war has become the norm rather than the exception. The significance of this development lies not merely in the multitude of violent and unnecessary deaths -but more so in our readily viewing this reality with a novel brand of bold nonchalance.

In business-speak for international arms dealing, DSEI -Defence & Security Equipment International—boasts that its biennial exhibition “provides a time-effective opportunity to meet the whole defence and security supply chain”. DSEI further promises that this year’s event will exceed attendance figures from 2009: 25,170 attendees; 1280 exhibitors; 98 countries; 70 official delegations; 27 national pavilions. Just have a look at its slick website offering  “infinite opportunities” to those who would jump on the weapons carousel.

A stall at DSEI advertising AK-47 assault rifles
A stall at DSEI 2009 advertising AK-47 assault rifles for sale

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Why does the West continue to arm authoritarian regimes?

Karim Malak from Egypt reports on an incident on Armed Forces day, 23 July 2011

A Military commander talks to protesters as they encircle and cordon off a peaceful march in Abbasiya. Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

On 23 July 2011 the Egyptian military cautiously began marking Armed Forces day. The night before, the military had issued a communique on their facebook page incriminating 6 April, a large civil society organisation and opposition movement.

In response, activists spread the call for a march to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) (Twitter hashtag: #SCAF). As thousands of people marched from Tahrir Square to Abbasiya to protest it soon became apparent that the violence that broke out had been orchestrated. A chaotic scene soon engulfed in Tahrir Square. Continue reading “Why does the West continue to arm authoritarian regimes?”

Wild beasts and parliamentary action

Kaye Stearman asks: “Why do MPs care so passionately about animal rights while failing to tackle issues like the arms trade?”

One night in June as I was drifting off to sleep, I was galvanised by the passionate debate being played out on the normally soporific Today in Parliament on Radio 4. The programme is noted for its erudition in the explanation of arcane bills and ministerial soundbites but to hear genuine anger and passionate advocacy is rare.

Tiger jumping through hoop

Even more surprising was that the debate was led by backbenchers and cut across partly lines. Who, I wondered, were these MPs and what was their cause. Surely it must involve an issue such as violation of human rights, poverty, famine, war or the arms trade.

Alas, it was none of these. To be fair, it did involve the rights of living beings – in this case wild animals. MPs united in support of a law that would ban lions, tigers and other wild animals from circus shows in the UK. The government had tried to impose a three-line whip, backbenchers had refused to knuckle under and a heartfelt debate on the wrongs of animal mistreatment ensued. Continue reading “Wild beasts and parliamentary action”

A poetic take on Libya

Athos Athanasiou was moved to write a poem about Libya and British arms firms’ dealings with Gaddafi. You can read more of his poetry on his blog.

On Libya

Oh just look! The papers say,
David Cameron leads the way,
in heading to the Middle East
to try and quell that fearsome beast.

But

Athos Athanasiou

what is it he’s actually doing?
Who on earth could he be wooing?
And what ends is he pursuing?
While the fighting still is brewing?

Off he trots to pave the way
for the weapons men who pay,
to have their arms contracts renewed.
They are nothing if not shrewd.

So what message is he showing?
While atrocities are growing,
and a bloody wind is blowing,
and the people’s blood is flowing,

dying from the tanks and bombers
as the arms trade pursues commerce.
For these choppers and these guns
are brought in from other lands.

British arms firms had their hand in
planes, that soldiers d’rather land in
other realms, than bomb those standing
in the squares for change demanding.

Not forgetting France and Russia,
and the others who sell Libya
all the weapons that it needs
to kill its people in the streets.

Now  the Colonel has grown madder,
and the genocide grows sadder.
Paths to peace are looking harder.
Their’s the bloodiest intifada.

But the arms firms have no let up
in protecting contracts set up
when dictators ruled the day.
Turning blind eyes once they pay.

I just hope the tide is turning,
and the city soon stops burning.
But Gaddafi isnt learning.
Freedom is what they are yearning.