CAAT | 03.09.2003 10:47 | DSEi 2003
There are a number of myths, smoke-screens and excuses being circulated by the Government and Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd, regarding DSEi 2003.
DSEi may be run by a private exhibitions company, Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd, but it is sponsored by the UK Government. The Ministry of Defence is providing financial support amounting to nearly half-a-million. It is also supplying, and paying for, defence ministers and civil servants to attend, for British military personnel to demonstrate equipment (on behalf of the arms firms), and financing the visits of the UK Government’s invited guests. The Government’s military research and development arm, DSTL, is sole sponsor of the conference at DSEi 2003. The UK taxpayer also has to pick up the bill for more than £1 million of policing. DSEi is the arms-length arms fair – the Government fully supports it, but has put it at arms length because it is so controversial.
There never was a secret invite list.
For months Campaign Against Arms Trade, campaigners, MPs and journalists have been contacting Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd asking for a copy of the company’s invited guest list for DSEi 2003. Consistently, the company has refused to supply the list, saying it is not in the public interest. On 28th August 2003 Alex Nicholl, director of operations at DSEi, wrote to Jeremy Corbyn MP with the lie: ‘This year we have decided that we will not host international delegations.’ The next day, DSEi gave its list of invited international guests to defence journalists at a lunch time meeting.
Just because a country is invited to DSEi doesn’t mean the UK would grant a license to sell arms there.
This is an international arms exhibition, with nearly half (around 500) of the firms attending coming from overseas. Many of the weapons deals struck will have absolutely nothing to do with British arms export licensing. Many exhibitors come from countries which have very weak, if any, export licensing criteria. At DSEi the UK Government is facilitating arms deals that would breach its own criteria written into legislation in the Export Control Act of July 2002.
Exhibitors have been asked not to bring cluster munitions.
There has been no official confirmation of this, but even if arms firms do not bring these terrible weapons to the exhibition itself, they can and will do deals regarding them behind closed doors. If there has been a ban on exhibiting cluster bombs, it shows how powerful the campaign against the trade in these terrible weapons has been. But the campaign must continue until their manufacture, sale and use is completely banned.
Sponsoring DSEi 2003 is just part of the UK’s support for the British defence industry.
Government backing for this exhibition is huge, contributing over £1.5 million of taxpayers money to make sure it happens. But because this is an international arms fair, that means the UK Government is supporting the competitors of British arms firms as well. If our Government was so worried about protecting British jobs, wouldn’t they ban foreign firms from exhibiting? Research has revealed that the UK Government subsidises the British defence export industry to the tune of £763 million a year – that’s £8,500 for each of the 90,000 jobs the arms export business. The amount of Export Credit Guarantee Department support for arms exports is especially disproportionate to Government support for other industries. While the arms trade accounts for only 2% of UK exports, over the past give years it has absorbed more than 30% of ECGD support. This money could be better invested in industries which do not have such terrible results.
Syria won’t be attending the arms fair.
Both the Government and Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd invited delegates from ‘rogue nation’ Syria to shop for arms at DSEi 2003. They are now briefing that Syria has not accepted, or will not attend. This should not detract from the fact that they regarded Syria as a legitimate and welcome arms buyer on UK soil.