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 2009 advertising AK-47 assault rifles for sale
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Eight O’clock one rainy morning outside Victoria Station, a crew of CAAT activists assembled with high hopes and higher necked woolly jumpers. Their aim, to descend on the unwitting offices of Kingsgate House, the home of UK Trade and Investment, and alert them to the rather clandestine and immoral activities now taking place within.
Considering the keenness of the hour and the biting frost, spirits ran high. In the moments to be grasped before the zero hour, we debated whether or not it was credible to combine ridiculously base pop anthems with a catchy acronym to achieve a campaign chant. In the case of Daphne and Celeste’s turgidly dire “U.G.L.Y.” the answer was deemed no. It seems however well one could substitute “U.K.T.I you ain’t got no alibi you ugly” into its insipidly feverish brogue, the price of being associated with such bilge was deemed too high. The decision was postponed, but it was decided to float the idea of a new workshop at the next national gathering entitled: “the art of incorporating acronyms into catchy campaign chants.” We did however congratulate ourselves on having higher standards and considerably more scruples than your average pop music producer.
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London CAAT decided on a “Merchants of Death” walk as one part of our “Stop the Arms Trade Week”. Rather than a series of protests, this was a more sedate tour of Central London, with descriptions of certain companies thrown in. So thirteen of us met outside Victoria station and even had the sun shining on us. In terms of the types of companies we went to, there was a clear distinction.
Obviously, we took in major military producers and arms dealers such as BAE Systems, Boeing UK, Rolls Royce, Lockheed Martin (including INSYS), QinetiQ, MATRA BAe, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Land Rover Leyland International Holdings. Among such “Merchants of Death” there is a long history of corruption, sometimes involving countries with serious records of human rights abuse, which underlines how indiscriminate the trade is.
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The reason why I have not been blogging for ages is simple:
I haven’t been around. Here are a few lines on the difficulties of being an anti-arms trade campaigner in exile:
Three months ago I left London for a research trip to Ukraine and that’s when things really started to get going:
Two days before my departure University College London, my university we had so desperately tried to persuade to ditch its shares in arms companies, quite unexpectedly announced that it wants to develop an ethical investment policy.
What an incredible campaigning victory!
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The Prime Minister’s statement of 25th July that the Defence Export Services Organisation, based in Bloomsbury, will be shut by the end of the year is a great success for the peace movement in general and Campaign Against Arms Trade in particular. CAAT’s Shut DESO campaign, which included encircling the building with a human chain in October 2006, culminated with the handing in of a petition calling for DESO’s closure with over 10,000 signatures to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury.
I had signed that petition and got involved with the Shut DESO campaign because it was so obvious how wrong it was to have 500 civil servants in the heart of the government working for the interests of the arms trade. Read more »
London CAAT met at 11am today to start our “Central London Arms Trade Crawl” outside BAE’s headquarters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in this first leg we were emphasising the corrupt nature of the trade in death in our home city. The secluded Carlton Gardens, where the firm that the government won’t allow to be investigated for corruption shares a building with investment bankers, is a few hundred metres from Buckingham Palace. Crime evidently pays very well.
After forty minutes of chatting with and handing out leaflets to some of the people coming in and out of the building and those around it we began the short journey to the far busier Haymarket. At noon we were outside New Zealand House, which houses the offices of Land Rover Leyland International Holdings, the parent company of Ashok, which agreed to sell military trucks to Sudan despite the embargo there. The focus here was on the indiscriminate nature of the trade and the mention of Darfur was a definite catalyst for passers by to agree to sign our petition.
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Hi, it’s Anne here – a brand new CAAT volunteer. I was down at the Shut DESO demonstration yesterday. DESO (Defence Export Services Organisation) is a government agency which promotes the UK arms export business. It employs about 500 civil servants. About thirty people turned up which is great for a mid-morning, mid-week demo. DESO were holding their annual symposium at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre near Westminster Abbey, and we stood outside waving our banners and handing out leaflets to passers-by. Around 300 leaflets were handed out so lots of people will get the chance to learn about the influence of arms companies on government policies and CAATs campaign to Shut DESO.
It was a lovely morning standing in the sunshine talking to other protesters. Some of whom had come from as far a field as Reading and Cambridge. At 1:00pm we made our way round the corner to the Treasury to hand in a petition calling for the closure of DESO. It had been signed by over 10,000 people including such prominent names as writer George Monbiot, comedian Mark Thomas and economist Samuel Brittan. CAAT staffer Anna Jones and Chris Cole from the Fellowship of Reconciliation handed in the petition at the front desk.
Rikki from Indymedia came down to bear witness. Look at the fantastic pictures he took!
This is just a quick note to say THANK YOU to everyone who has signed my pledge to come to the SHUT DESO protest tomorrow.
We will be protesting at 11 am in front of DESO’s annual conference and then walk to the treasury to hand in our Shut DESO petition with over 10 000 signatures!
See you then!
On Thursday 15th March I am giving a talk to the very active Bristol CAAT group. Do come along if you can – details are here.
The subject is very topical – corruption. The title of my talk will be “the Ministry of Defence and the bribe culture: from active participation to passive complicity”.
It is easy to think in the current climate with the focus of corruption allegations very much on BAE Systems that the root of the problem lies with them alone. But the British Government is not as clean as it likes to point out.
In 2003 the MoD attacked a Guardian article which stated that “The government’s own arms sales department [DESO] is directly implicated in bribery abroad”. Read more »
I’m getting ready for the SHUT DESO protest next Wednesday.
DESO (Defence Export Services Organisation) is a government agency that identifies potential opportunities for arms sales, then works with the arms companies and other elements of government to push for deals.
I really don’t believe that UK tax payers money should be spent on paying around 500 civil servants to help arms companies sell their products. Surely arms companies are pretty capable of selling arms to countries with a dubious human rights record all by themselves. What the hell is the UK government doing helping them?
Read more on DESO.
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