This year has seen a bonanza for military spending. Sunak’s government is sticking to the Johnson position: for a ‘Global Britain’ that is on the offensive, ‘projecting force’ globally. So announcements of government increases have come thick and fast, from the spring budget and the Integrated Review ‘Refresh’ through to this summer’s Defence Command paper. The extra billions are adding up, now totalling some £11 billion, and heading towards 2.5% of GDP going on weapons and warfare, even as the cost of living continues to bite and so many people are facing real hardship.
At the heart of this sickening situation is the arms industry, making massive amounts of money out of suffering, destruction and death. The hardship so many are facing, together with the horrors of war in Ukraine, make the DSEI arms fair even more offensive than usual.
The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair takes place every two years in the London Borough of Newham. It’s one of the world’s largest arms fairs, organised by Clarion Events and heavily supported by the UK Government’s Ministry of Defence and Department for International Trade.
DSEI features over a thousand exhibitors who display weapons ranging from sniper weapons to tanks, promoting arms sales to countries with records of grave human rights abuses. The fair has also hosted representatives from some of the world’s most authoritarian and repressive regimes.
In previous years, the arms fair has been found to sell weapons that are banned from sale in the UK due to their heinous nature, such as electro-shock and torture equipment and cluster bombs. Despite these violations, the UK government has failed to withdraw its support for the fair.
Indeed, in 2021, the Guardian and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found that the UK government had sold arms to 21 out of the 30 countries on its own list of repressive regimes. The UK also licensed £16.8bn of arms between 2011 and 2020 to countries criticised for having a poor record on political and human rights.
DSEI is also a major networking event for businesses involved in the nuclear weapons industry. Arms companies are profiting from huge sums being spent on new nuclear weapons – and many of these will be present at the fair. UK companies BAE systems and Rolls-Royce will be there; BAE is building new submarines to carry our nuclear weapons and Rolls-Royce makes nuclear reactors to power them. But they aren’t the only companies involved in nuclear weapons at the fair. The US company Lockheed Martin will be there too. It’s not only the world’s number one arms producer, it is also responsible for managing the UK’s nuclear warheads.
A key issue that should concern us all is the level of government expenditure on weapons – so much of the profits in the arms trade come from public spending. Billions of pounds of tax payers’ money go every year on nuclear weapons and more than £205 billion are being spent on building and running a new nuclear weapons system to replace Trident. When we hear from the government that there is no money for public spending and that local services have to be cut, that money for health, housing, social care and everything needed for a decent society is not available, we know that isn’t true. The money is there, it’s just being spent on the wrong priorities. I am sure we would all rather our public money was invested in feeding and educating our children, housing the homeless, and caring for our elders.
While the UK government backs this trade in death, it’s great to know that Newham Council is resolutely opposed to it. As we prepare for our webinar on 13th September, entitled Selling Death: why we must resist the DSEI arms fair, I would like to thank the Mayor and Council in Newham for their principled stand – they are an example to others around the country and internationally, and they provide hope to all those communities around the world that suffer as a result of this deadly trade. We are delighted to welcome Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, as well as Richard Norton-Taylor, former Guardian defence and security editor, Board of DeclassifiedUK; and Kirsten Bayes, Local Outreach Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade. This is a remarkably knowledgeable and committed panel and we do hope you will be able to join us.
If you are able to take action against the arms fair, please visit the Stop the Arms fair website for further information. Get involved if you can – it’s time to end profiteering from death and untold suffering.