An anti-arms trade campaigner explains what the DSEI arms fair is and why it is so important to join the protests against it when it comes to London in September
The driver on the 241 bus to Stratford couldn’t believe they were selling guns in the London ExCel. Unlike other Clarion events, the arms fair is not widely publicised. Trains are suspended, fences are raised, the borough of Newham in East London is largely shut down.
30,000 delegates from over 150 countries are invited to promote bombs and fighter planes, to choose assault rifles and vehicles to withstand multiple rounds from assault rifles. Military delegations from conflict zones and repressive regimes network and agree weapons deals. The DSEI arms fair (Defence and Security Equipment International) is a bi-annual invitation-only event run with political and financial support from the UK government. From here, military drones, guns, tanks, missiles and tear gas are exported internationally. War is big business.
Britain, after the United States who provide 50% of the global weaponry market, is the second biggest arms dealer in the world. The British public are guarantors on all deals, if anyone defaults on payment, the taxpayer covers the debt. The people who sell arms will always be paid, whether their customers pay or not. There’s money to be made.
Photo: Subvertisers for London - Public Space
Demonstrators attend in increasing numbers, to share information, obstruct the smooth running and raise the profile of the event in public consciousness.
As fighter jets land and arms shipments arrive, I join a group of 30 protestors for a talk on displacement. A refugee speaks of the pain in his heart, his longing to see his family and loved ones, his children. He wants to go back but there is no back. We have freedom of movement while we criminalise the displaced. We protect the free movement of money and deny the movement of people. We’re free to pursue our interests while those displaced into forced migration from unliveable lands are termed as ‘illegal’ and detained.
In domestic law, it’s a criminal offence to supply weapons, you become an accomplice to crime. Why is it a jail sentence for individuals, but legitimate for governments to provide weapons which kill hundreds of thousands of people?
‘War is organised murder’ (Harry Patch)
On the streets, people assault one another because of conditions of their lives; exclusion, hardship, poverty. Governments cannot claim the same defence. Weaponised conflict results in chaos, panic and displacement. War is hell. It’s a disastrous, pointless waste of life. When you harm people you put them at a disadvantage. Children who suffer severe emotional trauma have a perilous lowering in the set point for alarm. Victims of severe trauma may never, biologically be the same again. Do we not have a more useful contribution to make to the world?
It seems the only people who aren’t suffering are the people causing the problems.
A workshop begins, an ‘Alternative Border Force’ prepares to patrol the arrival of vehicles, checking drivers are aware of the business they’re servicing. The drivers are normal guys doing their jobs, often reasonable enough, they haven’t considered the implications of the industry or the harm it may cause any more than most people ever do.
Militarism is the exertion of authority, domination and hierarchy by force. It supports deep divisions and inequality where ruling elites of all countries have little or no care for the disaffected.
The arms fair provides the tools, which enable the strong to oppress the weak into forced compliance, often denying communities the right to democratic self-determination.
Crossing the road in peaceful demonstration to delay delivery of a shipment, a man twice my size shoves me with his full body weight onto the pavement. It was violent and unnecessary, I was in no immediate danger. I had just been assaulted by a policeman. Shaken and confused, my legs wouldn’t hold me, I withdrew and watched events continue and then.. a tremendous wave of sadness hit me.
We pay his wages. Yet he takes orders from weapon owners and intimidators. He’s not here to protect people. He’s here to protect the interests of the people who give him orders.. to defend the dominant ideology; of ownership and compliance and the people who give him orders.. don’t care who bleeds.
While Russia is prevented from having weapons outside its border, it seems widely accepted the United States can use force and violence at will.
There seems to be a blanket of amnesia over our colonial past. It’s arrogant and misguided to believe the West can impose its version of democracy on the rest of the world. Intervention is a colonial idea, whereby the rich and powerful, driven by materialism and merciless exploitation for the commodity of modern capitalism, oil, decide the fate of others.
Who are the terrorists? Who is under threat? US war planes fly the skies of Pakistan with authority to annihilate entire families and tribes in pre-emptive strikes without being held to account. Weapons are terror. Violence, intimidation and threats are no way to maintain peace. What exactly did the people of Libya, Afghanistan or Pakistan do to any of us?
We are not allowed to say war is wrong. When we stand in opposition we can be, and often are, criminalised. We have to play by their rules and those rules are not committed to equal rights for all.
Photo: Serann at www.serannart.co.uk
In this context, rights are needed by the vulnerable, not the rich. The only beneficiaries of arms sales are huge war corporations and those willing to exert violent domination over others. People who sell arms profit from the oppression, containment, indiscriminate injury and death of others.
8 people were arrested that year for obstruction under the Highways Act. Their lives then a process of trial hearings & court attendance. Finding legal representation, childcare. Their jobs were at risk, their families suffered.
The court was presented with clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence:
'criminal activities were not being properly investigated or prosecuted. Complaints in relation to reports of unlawful dealings at previous arms fairs had not been taken seriously, despite the fact hundreds of thousands of people had died'
The defendants were cleared of all charges.
History shows, principled disobedience creates a more humane society. Without some struggle and fight, power does not yield. Law abiding citizens do not change things.
Our government encourages arms dealing to be profitable. Wealth is being created at devastating cost to the people who benefit least from it. Capitalism, and the lifestyle it demands, is directly linked to domination and control of other people and the environment. It’s important this reality is faced. Through association with the US and NATO, and through its own militarism, our government is responsible for this violence. They must and can be challenged.
Many people in Britain disagree with, and suffer from, the choices made by their government. They would rather money was spent on healthcare, housing, alternative energy and education than on weapons, domination and the ongoing oppression of others. Our task is to organise together, be clear on our priorities and make this happen.
Our collective humanity is in the choices we make, what we choose to identify with, what we choose to allow and why, and in addressing how we, in our action or inaction perpetuate and permit this violence to continue.
'To feel the love of people we love is a fire that feeds our life. To feel affection from those we do not know, is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things' (Pablo Neruda)
The DSEI Arms Fair runs from September 10th to 13th 2019 at London’s Docklands Excel. From September 2nd and during the week preceding the event, non-violent actions are planned for the gates. There are many ways to volunteer.
Please see the CAAT website for more information.
More articles from this author
- Justice for George Floyd: model resolution and window poster
- Brazil: crises, crises and more crises
- The schools’ crisis: what can we expect
- Confronting the crisis in universities
- It’s a big deal that the outrage expressed over George Floyd’s death was massive and multiracial
- We won't send our children back until it's safe
- Some past rank-and-file movements