Arms trade

IssueFebruary 2010
Comment by Gwyn

Arms dealers from all over the world have been invited back to the biggest arms fair in the world at the ExCeL centre in Newham, east London for 13-16 September 2011. This vile event has been held at this venue every two years since 2001. They call it the “Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi)” Exhibition though the only accurate bit of that title is “international”.

When East London Against Arms Fairs started over a decade ago we knew that previous arms fairs had not returned to other areas where there had been local protests. We felt that, even if we did not succeed immediately in getting the arms fair cancelled altogether, forcing it to seek out yet another venue would demonstrate that it was not welcome anywhere. I think many of us were enthusiastic and optimistic at that time.

I even wrote a song about the search for a venue for the arms fair including the lines: “We can get away with anything in Newham. Shall we hold it at ExCeL?” At the time those words were meant to be ironic but so far our efforts have failed to prove them wrong.

We have seen more and more arms dealers and potential customers from different countries come to ExCeL. We have seen tanks, warships and, most recently, killer drones. Both the venue and the ownership of the arms fair have changed. Before a previous arms fair, Lord Tom King, then the chairman (sic) of the shareholders of ExCeL, received, in person, a petition at the ExCeL Centre. It was presented by survivors of the Second World War blitz on Custom House. They spoke movingly about how they did not want the site where their relatives had been killed used to sell weapons to cause the same grief to people in other countries.

The present owners of ExCeL are the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company. We rejoiced when the Reed Elsevier company were shamed into giving up ownership of DSEi. That company owned medical, professional and academic publications that objected strongly to being associated with an arms fair.

The present owners of the DSEi arms fair are Clarion Events, a company which is owned by a private equity firm based in New York. Clarion profits are based on the gambling industry and arms dealing. Unlike Reed Elsevier, Clarion does not appear to have an ethical achilles heel.

However although Clarion organises and the ExCeL hosts arms fairs, both have more innocent exhibitions all the year round. These provide opportunities for demonstrations, well in advance of the arms fair, while it is still possible to achieve cancellation. Clarion are organising a baby show at the ExCeL Centre from 19-21 February.

East London Against The Arms Fair is launching a campaign to cancel the proposed 2011 DSEi arms fair with a musical protest outside the Clarion Baby Show at the ExCeL Centre on Saturday 20 February. We need as much support as possible.

Topics: Arms trade
See more of: Gwyn