London's DSEI arms fair welcomes the world's war criminals

London's DSEI arms fair welcomes the world's war criminals
Comment: The DSEI arms fair in London will bring those responsible for the bombing of Yemen together with those who have profited from it, writes Andrew Smith.
4 min read
04 Sep, 2017
The DSEI arms fair sells weapons to hundreds of the world's most despotic regimes [Getty]
Over recent months, the already dire situation in Yemen has deteriorated even further. 

The civil war has continued, while the Saudi bombing campaign has intensified, claiming more and more civilian lives. The result of two-and-a-half years of terrible war and bombardment is one of today's worst humanitarian catastrophes, with the World Health Organisation identifying 500,000 cases of cholera.

The Saudi-led bombardment has been underpinned by support from some very powerful western allies, including the UK government. That support will be on full display next week when the regimes responsible for the air strikes will head to London for the Defence & Security Equipment International, one of the world's biggest arms fairs (DSEI).

While there, they will rub shoulders and do business with those who have profited from it.

The companies in attendance will be a roll-call of war profiteers, such as BAE Systems and Airbus, which produce the Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets that Saudi forces are flying over Yemen, and those like Raytheon and MBDA, which make the Paveway bombs and Brimstone missiles being dropped from the sky.

All ten of the world's biggest arms companies are scheduled to attend - as are companies such as Rafael and Elbit Systems, which have played a crucial role in the occupation of Gaza. This unseemly gaggle of doom merchants will be joined by 1,500 other companies, all of which will be desperate to shift as many weapons as possible.

Where will the weapons being promoted end up? And who will they be used against?

It's going to be a major production. Events like DSEI don't just happen. They take a lot of organisation. DSEI is organised by Clarion events, one of the world's biggest event companies, but it couldn't take place without the full support of government.

Both the Ministry of Defence and the Department of International Trade have played key roles in inviting guests and putting the whole terrible event together.

Infographic - arms trade

[Click to expand]

Attendees will be welcomed and greeted by an array of civil servants and military personnel. They will also be invited to attend seminars and displays from arms company leaders, as well as celebratory and congratulatory speeches by high ranking politicians.

There is no question that DSEI enjoys the full support of government. In fact, five different government ministers are scheduled to speak, including the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, and the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox.

But what will be the long term impact of this carnival of the grotesque? Where will the weapons being promoted end up? And who will they be used against? At present, a majority of UK arms exports are going to the Middle East.

Not only is it a particularly tense time for the region, but there is no such thing as arms control once weapons have left UK shores and entered conflict zones.

Destroyed house Yemen (AFP)
Yemenis search the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi airstrike in the Faj Attan neighbourhood
of Sanaa on August 25, 2017

The human rights abusers and dictatorships in attendance won't just be buying weapons, they will also be buying legitimacy and political support. Arms exports can never be politically neutral, and as long as regimes are buying UK arms they are also buying the approval that goes with it.

An obvious example of where arms exports can influence diplomacy can be seen in regard to one of the other likely attendees, Turkey.

Over two thirds of the country oppose arms exports to human rights abusers

At the same time as the European Union is moving away from Erdogan's authoritarian government, the UK has sent strong messages of support, with Theresa May visiting Ankara in January and coming away with a £100 million fighter jet deal for her friends at BAE Systems. Would she be as unwilling to criticise Erdogan's descent into authoritarianism if there weren't so many arms sales on the line?

Infographic - Yemen children
[Click to expand]

There is no question that events like DSEI are opposed by the overwhelming majority of people across the UK, with polls routinely showing that over two thirds of the country oppose arms exports to human rights abusers. Despite this, over the last twelve months the UK has licensed arms sales to 20 of the 30 countries on the government's own list of 'human rights priority countries.'

Thousands of us will be taking action to stop it, with a week of action starting today to blockade the entrances and stop the weapons from getting in to the Excel Centre, which is set to host DSEI.

The stakes could not be higher, with UK arms pouring into conflict zones around the world. War, repression and injustice are fuelled by DSEI, it's time to shut it down for good.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Follow CAAT at on Twitter: @CAATuk

You can find out more about the week of action against DSEI and get involved at

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.