This weekend, thousands of terrorists from all over the world will be descending on the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands for the DSEI Arms Fair.

To greet them will be one million pounds worth of security – paid for by the taxpayer. Two thousand officers from the Met, 300 British Transport Police, City of London police officers, Ministry of Defence police, plain clothes detectives, security guards and specialists from the Met’s marine, dogs and horse units, have all been drafted in. Not to arrest those selling weapons of mass destruction but to protect those same, poor, arms dealers from demonstrators who’ve vowed to try and shut down this ‘trade in death.’

Welcome to the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi – pronounced dicey) Exhibition 2003, Europe’s biggest arms fair. Opening the fair will be Minister of War Geoff Hoon, while delegations from no less than sixty countries will have their accommodation and board paid for by the taxpayer while they shop for weapons. Somewhat astutely, a senior officer from the Met says they are anticipating a “major public order headache.”

The UK arms industry accounts for 20% of world weapon sales and after agriculture is the most heavily government subsided industry. Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) say that MoD spending on research and development has increased by 27% over the last year. Dr. Stuart Parkinson, SGR Director said: “Much of the MoD’s research and development is geared towards making weaponry, sometimes for export to regimes with bad human rights records. It would be much more ethical to use the scientific expertise to accelerate, for example, the development of environmentally-friendly technologies.”

At the first DSEi in 1999, two separate breaches of the International Landmines Act were uncovered by journalists. And in 2001, as planes were crashing into the World Trade Centre, 14 different Middle Eastern nations were shopping for weapons at the Excel Centre, side by side with the US, Israel, Australia and the UK. While thousands of other events around the world were cancelled out of respect for the dead, DSEi stayed open and arms dealers clocked up sales to Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US, Colombia, China and Russia.sales to Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US, Colombia, China and Russia.

Fluffy DSEi

Poor human rights record? There are two invitation lists to DSEi, the official MoD list, which this year includes feuding neighbours India and Pakistan, Turkey, Russia, and ‘axis of evil’ state Syria. Then there’s the organisers, Spearhead Ltd.’s, own secret list, over which the MoD has consultation but ultimately no control.

Spearhead have invited Afghanistan, Angola, Tanzania, and Israel. No cash for health and education? Well DSEi has something for everyone. The whole of next Thursday (11th) is dedicated to a conference called ‘Making Defence Affordable?’

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is stunned: “Following controversy about the UK licensing a £28million military air traffic control system to Tanzania, which it neither needs nor can afford, it is disturbing that Tanzania – one of the very poorest countries in the world – has been invited to buy yet more arms.” Martin Hogbin, of CAAT underlines the obvious hypocrisy at work at DSEi: “If the UK was serious about developing a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, we would not promote sales of more arms into the region.”

Companies exhibiting, alongside weapons giants Lockheed Martin and BAE, include Bulgarian small arms firm Arsenal Company which is reported to have sold £5-6 million of arms to Chad and Angola, as well as supplying arms to Sierra Leone in breach of the UN embargo. “Many of these companies have been fingered for shipping arms, sometimes illegally, into regions of terrible conflict like the Congo” says Hogbin. Others manufacture some of the most brutal and indiscriminate weapons in the world, including landmines and cluster bombs. At least two producers of depleted uranium shells will be exhibiting this year.

In a half-arsed attempt at political correctness, Spearhead have asked exhibitors not to display cluster bombs at DSEi! According to UNICEF, more than 1000 children have been injured by cluster bomblets and other unexploded weapons since the ‘end’ of the war in Iraq. Of course, cluster bombs can still be bought at DSEi, just not displayed, and like everything else on sale there they will not be subject to UK export controls.

In the run up to DSEi activist groups have been targeting exhibiting UK companies, such as Fluent in Sheffield and Cambridge Consultants. Two weeks ago Spearhead’s head office in New Malden was occupied, and on Monday protesters – bound together by arm tubes – blockaded the gates to the ExCel Centre for five hours, preventing tanks being delivered to the exhibition. Police used cutting equipment to remove the tubes and a number of people were arrested under charges of obstructing the highway.

The police have promised to treat demonstrators “in the same sort of way as the May Day riots” and have been issued blanket stop and search laws under the Terrorism Act 2000. That’s obviously because people protesting about weapons that kill and maim are just bloody terrorists that need to be stamped on – whereas those poor souls trying to earn an honest living by selling weapons that kill and maim – well, they need all the love, affection and money we can throw at ’em.