A Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet being viewed by arms dealers with a BAE Systems logo in the background

Arms fairs

Arms fairs are major events that are crucial to the smooth-running of the arms trade. They promote weapons sales by giving arms dealers the chance to meet and greet military delegations, government officials, other arms companies and a host of individual visitors.

Last updated 17 December 2020

About arms fairs

Arms fairs are major events that are crucial to the smooth-running of the arms trade. They promote weapons sales by giving arms dealers the chance to meet and greet military delegations, government officials, other arms companies and a host of individual visitors.

Chillingly, they look a lot like many other trade conferences – except here, much of the equipment on display is designed to kill, injure and enforce injustice.

Unsurprisingly, the guest lists for arms fairs frequently include regimes who abuse human rights, and countries actively involved in armed conflicts.

CAAT is campaigning to end arms fairs and end the government support that make them possible.

Government support

Government support is essential to the success of arms fairs. The UK government has a department dedicated to promoting weapons sales: UK Defence & Security Exports.  It invites military delegations from around the world to attend and provides guides and military escorts for them at the events. Government ministers also attend, and the armed forces demonstrate equipment to help company sell weapons.

Arms fairs in the UK

Three major arms fairs take place in the UK. CAAT supports direct action to shut them down.

Cobra helicopter or similar, covered up outside Excel London

Defence & Security Equipment International

DSEI is one of the world's largest arms fairs. It takes place in London every two years, returning in September 2023. It includes most of the biggest arms companies, displaying weapons from sniper rifles and tanks, to combat aircraft and warships.

Eurofighter Typhoon large outdoor poster captioned Effective, proven, trusted. Flats behind include German, Spain, Italy UK

Farnborough International

Farnborough International is best known for its airshow but its main purpose is the combined arms fair and civil aerospace exhibition. Weapons are marketed to international delegations from around the world.

Borders Kill banner carried by four campaigners with hats and headscarfs outside Home Office. Three hold smoke pyrotechnics

Security & Policing

Security & Policing is where arms, border, policing and surveillance companies gather to exhibit equipment and technologies. It is a secretive, annual Home Office event that does not even allow journalists to attend. Security and Policing 2023 will be Farnborough, Hampshire from 14-16 March 2023.

Arms companies also exhibit their products at a number of smaller events in the UK, such as Counter Terror Expo, and DPRTE (Defence, Procurement, Research Technology, Exportability).

Wherever these events are taking place, CAAT is supporting local action to resist them. DPRTE has now been driven out of three cities: Bristol (in 2014), Cardiff, and, in 2019, Birmingham.

Protests in Glasgow against Undersea Defence Technology persuaded  Glasgow Council that it should no longer support arms fairs.

In 2020, public opposition also persuaded local Councils to take a stand against Electronic Warfare Europe.  In Liverpool the Mayor promised to develop an ethical policy to prevent such events. After the Liverpool event was cancelled, the 2021 edition was scheduled for Seville in 2021, only to be cancelled too. After a local campaign the Council rejected the event, citing the “inconvenience of linking the city’s image as a major congress venue to a controversial event with national and international repercussions.”

As Hugh Douglas from Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair said:

The government might be willing to ignore the death and destruction caused by the arms industry, but local people are not.

Driving the arms trade out of town

Glasgow Sank UDT!

The Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) arms fair took place at SEC Glasgow at the end of June. It was met by a large, boisterous protest, which made it very clear that weapons trading should not be happening in Glasgow, or anywhere! As a result, Glasgow Council took the decision to no longer support arms fairs.

Protesters with a megaphone and Stop Arming Saudi palacrd outside the arms dealers' dinner

Success! Arms fair chased out of Birmingham!

The DPRTE arms fair was moved to Birmingham after energetic protest and objections from locals drove it out of Cardiff ... now the threat of protest in Birmingham has forced the event to move before it even opens!

Peace activists in Bath protest against the proposed Drones conference

Bath peace activists drive out drone conference

Monica Pearce of the Bath Stop War Coalition tells how Bath's famous Assembly Rooms were booked for a conference on military drones, organised by Clarion Events, and how sustained protest forced them to back down.

International arms fairs

UK arms fairs are part of an international circuit of events, with a busy calendar. The UK government also plays a major role in promoting arms companies at these overseas arms fairs. It facilitates high-level UK delegations, takes exhibition space and even provides serving members of the UK armed forces to demonstrate arms companies’ weaponry.

CAAT is working with groups around the world taking action to expose and resist them.

International action

“We are everywhere”

Activists in Seoul have drawn on some of the actions we had organised at DSEI - and improved them! South Korean activists even used some of the same slogans so that if any arms dealers who had been at DSEI also went to Seoul, they would know that “we are everywhere”.

Activists disrupt Paris arms fair

Activists in Paris kicked off a week of action against the Eurosatory arms fair by covering an armoured vehicle in paint. People from Belgium, Germany and England have joined French activists to take action.

peace action wellington members line up holding banners saying "arms trade death trade"

Resisting the Arms Trade in Aotearoa/New Zealand

In November 2016, activists in Aoteara/New Zealand were on the streets to target a weapons expo in Auckland, and arms dealers found themselves locked out of the venue by the blockades. Here they explain the tactics that they have used to confront the arms trade.

Our resistance is global

The arms trade is global. So is our resistance.

In the UK, South Korea and New Zealand, activists have been taking action against the global arms trade. After the marathon of activism against the DSEI arms fair in September, we were off to Seoul, South Korea: to take action against the ADEX arms fair.

Do we know where our weapons are aimed?

CAAT joined NESEHNUTÍ as part of their campaign to raise awareness of the Czech arms trade, participating in Different Fest, their anti-arms trade festival, challenging Brno's IDET arms fair.

Two police officer in heavy riot hear and carrying guns

Resisting police militarisation in the US

The lines between policing, the army and ‘security’ are becoming blurred and 'counter-terrorism' is being used to clampdown on civil liberties. In the US, a coalition has been taking action against the militarisation of police and institutionalised racism by targeting a major arms fair: Urban Shield.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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