Helicopter landing at ExCel

An unwelcome guest: DSEI 2021

The controversial London DSEI arms fair expects to return on Tuesday 14th September. It should close its doors and never return, writes CAAT's Kirsten Bayes

An unwelcome return

The DSEI arms fair plans to return to London Docklands next week, beginning on 14th September.

The biennial fair at the ExCel centre features planes, bombs, rockets, guns, tanks and warships and is one of the busiest in the world: in 2019 some 1700 exhibiting companies, and 36,000+  attended (though there will likely only around 832 exhibiting companies this year, in part due to Covid). As well as sales people from all the big arms makers, a number of delegations from big arms buying countries will be present, most having been invited by the UK government.

The most important of these by far will be the delegation from Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest arms buyers in the world and one of the leading countries in a coalition fighting the war in Yemen. This conflict has seen the deaths of thousands of civilians, and estimated arms sales to the coalition around £18 billion since the conflict began in 2015. The wider invite list is a who’s-who of human rights abusers, and last time included Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, all countries on the UK governments own list of “countries of concern“.

Resistance of all kinds

Resistance is expected on the first day of the fair, as multiple groups plan morning til night “Tank the Arms Fair” protests, working together as part of the Stop the Arms Fair coalition.

The resistance has in fact already begun. In the teeth of heavy-handed policing, this week has seen activists blocking roads with cars, clambering onto tanks, locking themselves to digging machines, and draping banners from the top of police vans. Some have even made camp in the road overnight. This to stop the arms fair setting up in the first place: if no weapons make it in, no arms fair.

What is also true is campaigners have been sharing knowledge, and hearing from speakers: including most notably this week from Palestine and Afghanistan, but also on subjects as diverse as education, the environment, borders and migration. Understanding the links between these issues builds the strength of the campaign: and like the wooden joints in a house, are where the system of oppression that the arms trade upholds is weakest.

Creating alternatives

The weekend will see these understandings developed still further not least by the artists involved with Art the Arms Fair, whose inspiring creative resistance will be on show at their “bomb boutique” in central London.

CAAT will be launching a new short film on Saturday, a Portrait of Resistance centering the campaign vs the Yemen conflict, and will be running a digital version of its Conference at the Gates event on the same day. Whereas Art the Arms Fair discusses the role of art in preventing conflict, the Conference at the Gates will be discussing how the subverting of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education fuels the spread of weaponry around the world.

Given continuing protests, including a Festival of Resistance on Saturday, a busy march on Sunday for Palestine and a reflective candlelit vigil on Monday night, the arms fair can expect to be greeted with determined, creative, informed resistance should it decide to open for business on Tuesday.

It needs to shut its doors, stop selling weapons that perpetuate death and disaster around the world, and never return.

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