By Stephen Fidler in London
Published: September 10 2007 19:21 | Last updated: September 10 2007 19:21
One of the world’s biggest arms fairs opens in London on Tuesday amid signs that Gordon Brown, prime minister, wants to change the way Britain sells arms abroad and as the show’s organiser tries to offload the business.
The four-day exhibition in the city’s Docklands, the fifth biennial arms fair, is described by Reed Elsevier, the organisers, as the fastest-growing defence show in the world.
Some exhibitors go further, saying the 1,300 companies from more than 30 countries at the show make it the largest defence exhibition in Europe.
But arms fairs are a sensitive business. Reed Elsevier said in June that putting them on was no longer compatible with its publishing business.
Sir Crispin Davis, chief executive, said: “It has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defence exhibitions business.” A spokesman said the company was on track to sell the business by the year-end.
The show is a brainchild of the Defence Export Sales Organisation, a part of Britain’s defence ministry devoted to promoting arms exports. British defence companies say Deso has played an important role in making sure the UK defence industry has not shrunk along with the rest of the country’s manufacturing capacity.
In the five years to 2006, Britain exported £26.5bn ($53.8bn, €39.1bn) of defence equipment, helping to secure tens of thousands of British jobs and reducing the costs of defence procurement to the UK government by hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the industry says.
But in July, Mr Brown announced he was going to shut down Deso, moving its responsibilities to where the rest of British export promotion lies – within the newly named Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
This, Mr Brown said, provided much greater “institutional alignment across government”. However, those close to the industry noted Deso’s involvement in a number of arms deals involving BAE Systems, the UK’s largest defence company, which are the subject of corruption investigations in various jurisdictions. BAE denies wrongdoing.
The Deso move was announced without consultation with industry – or with its outgoing head, Alan Garwood, who was informed of the decision only hours before it was announced on July 25. The industry was up in arms: Mike Turner, chief executive of BAE, wrote to Mr Brown asking for a meeting. (He did not receive it.)
One important difference to usual export promotion is that defence exports – including the huge deal for Eurofighter Typhoons for Saudi Arabia, potentially worth £20bn-£40bn, which could be signed in the next two weeks – are often negotiated government-to-government.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, a non-profit group, counts the Reed move – and Mr Brown’s Deso decision – as victories.
But it is organising protests on Tuesday against the show. A spokesman said the expectation that governments such as Libya’s would attend the exhibition showed a lack of concern for human rights.
Defence show faces fresh assault
By Danny Fortson
Published: 10 September 2007
Reed Elsevier, organiser of the world's largest defence and arms exhibition, is bracing itself for a fresh dose of negative publicity this week as interest groups plot an onslaught of protests at the Defence Systems & Equipment International.
The arms fair, which begins tomorrow in east London, has long been a sore spot for the FTSE 100 publishing group. Earlier this year the company said it would sell its defence exhibition unit in response to concerns raised not just by peace campaigners but by some of the academics who write in its journals.
The anti-arms group CAAT, which is lobbying for an end to the fair altogether, has organised a march tomorrow on the Excel centre, where the fair is held. Other groups will also taking part in an array of what they say will be peaceful demonstrations. The Christian groups Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi will protest. A group called Disarm DSEi goads supporters in a message on its website to "Come by bus. Come by DLR. Come by bike. Come by foot. Come by tank. Get to Custom House. Invade ExCeL. Shut down the arms fair."
DSEi attracts arms buyers and sellers from 20 countries, and is expected to lure more than 25,000 visitors. This year it will be showcasing the wares of 1,352 exhibitors, 20 per cent more than that last show in 2005.
CAAT's Symon Hill said the group would like to see the tax dollars used by the Government to buy arms to be invested instead in retraining for workers in the industry.
A DSEi spokesman said that defence and defence-related industries were important to the UK economy, employing more than 300,000 people. "This is the premier exhibition of its kind in the world, and the UK can be justifiably proud that so many countries feel comfortable coming here for it," he said.
In July Gordon Brown announced the closure of the Government's Defence Export Service Organisation, the body that helps to organise the show.
Time may soon be up for major London arms fair
By staff writers
9 Sep 2007
An arms fair taking place in London this week will be run for the last time by its current owner Reed Elsevier, which is putting it up for sale. Campaigners say they believe it may be the beginning of the end for the military exhibition.
Opponents of the arms trade, including anti-poverty NGOs and church groups, have long argued that promoting military exports degrades development, increases conflict and contributes to human rights abuses.
Reed is expected to struggle to sell the fair in a year that has seen many businesses respond to public opinion by distancing themselves from the arms trade. The biennial fair, Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) will be held in the Excel Centre from Tuesday 11 - Friday 14 September 2007.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has pointed out that potential buyers will be further deterred by the Prime Minister's decision to close the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), a Government unit that helps to organise DSEi.
CAAT is holding a peaceful demonstration against DSEi on Tuesday, which will be addressed by popular comedian and writer Mark Thomas - who has directly exposed sordid arms dealings with countries that violate human rights, like Indonesia.
CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said: "The sale of DSEi and the closure of DESO are reactions to increasing public opposition to the arms trade. Participation in arms dealing is no longer an option for any business concerned about its reputation."
He continued: The Local Authority Pension Fund has been questioning arms companies on ethics, Axa and Hermes are withdrawing from companies involved in cluster munitions and BAE has been widely accused of damaging the reputation of British business."
Hill concluded: "Buying an arms fair in this climate would be like buying a dairy farm in the middle of the foot-and-mouth outbreak."
Guarding the gunrunners
This week, one of the world's largest arms fairs is due to take place in London - and it will be policed by around 1,000 officers per day.
September 9, 2007 12:00 PM
In recent weeks, horrifying reports of gun crime have, understandably, been increasing the fear of guns among the British public. Next week, the Metropolitan police will also have guns on their minds. They will be guarding people selling them.
From September 11-14, about 1,000 officers per day will be policing Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI), one of the world's largest arms fairs. It will take place at the Excel Centre in east London, with more than 1,000 arms companies selling weapons ranging from handguns to fighter jets. When DSEI was last held, it cost taxpayers over £4m in policing costs.
The UK government has an inclusive attitude to DSEI: regimes who abuse human rights are happily allowed in. Previous guests included Indonesia, Libya, Israel and of course Saudi Arabia - the tyranny of choice for the UK's largest arms company BAE Systems. India and Pakistan both attended DSEI in 2005 - where they could buy weapons to aim at each other. While this year's guest list is still to be released, we can be sure that despotic regimes are likely to return.
But don't be fooled into thinking that nothing has changed. While the ethics of arms companies are no different, the attitudes of society certainly are. Arms traders are coming to London in a year that has seen political and commercial support falling away from the arms trade in the UK. This has led to DSEI's owners attempting to sell it.
DSEI is one of several arms fairs owned by Reed Elsevier, best known as a publisher. In June, Reed's bosses bowed to pressure from their authors and shareholders and agreed to sell their fairs by the end of 2007. They are looking for a buyer, but who will buy DSEI? Any business not deterred by ethics or reputational damage was put off in July when Gordon Brown announced the closure of the government unit that helps to organise DSEI. This is the infamous Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), which acts as a marketing agency for private arms companies. Its closure has long been a key aim of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
The closure of DESO was a heavy blow to the arms companies, with BAE described as "furious". Reed's decision to sell DSEI is a major sign that participation in the arms trade is no longer an option for any business concerned about its reputation. Businesspeople have insisted that Tony Blair's decision to cut short a corruption inquiry into BAE has harmed the reputation of British business. CAAT's campaign to have the inquiry reopened has won support from across the political spectrum, due to public anger at BAE's undemocratic power. The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum is questioning arms companies about ethics. Axa and Hermes have declared that they are withdrawing from large arms companies involved in cluster munitions. Buying an arms fair in this climate would be like buying a dairy farm in the middle of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
And yet somebody, somewhere may well be considering it. The crucial question may be whether the government would be willing to subsidise DSEI through other departments once DESO closes in December. People from all walks of life will therefore be demonstrating against DSEI at CAAT's peaceful demonstration on Tuesday. Together we will call on businesses not to buy DSEI and on government to find better uses for taxpayers' money.
The arms dealers would like you to believe that the people protesting against DSEI are extremists. We are not. We are ordinary people who see how the arms trade fuels war, poverty and repression. We can see that DSEI is a threat to our security and a drain on our economy. And we would much rather see 1,000 police officers tackling gun crime instead of guarding gunrunners.
Arms companies put the case for defence in their showcase of latest technology
September 11th, 2007
The task facing Britain’s defence industry has never been so clear. “It’s now about how to keep our soldiers from coming back in body bags.”
This opinion, voiced from within the industry, is widely shared as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan shape the global defence trade and companies seek to respond to changing military threats. It will be repeated when the industry’s trade fair begins in London today.
The main theme of the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition is “force protection”. The event will be dominated by equipment designed to keep soldiers alive, not by its traditional focus — offensive weaponry.
Body armour, gas masks and armoured vehicles will all feature prominently and the organisers have arranged a force protection demonstration area to show off the equipment’s effectiveness under fire.
Demand from military commanders for defensive equipment has grown massively since the invasion of Iraq morphed into combating a guerrilla warfare waged by insurgents.
Western armed forces had been moving towards a doctrine of light and fast strikes, characterised by their attack on Iraq, but British and American troops have come under sustained assault from mortar bombs and roadside mines and missiles during their operations and much of their existing equipment has been shown to be inadequate.
Moreover, methods that have proved so successful for Iraq’s terrorists are being aped by the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Military vehicles, such as the American Humvee and the British Land Rover, are insufficiently armoured to protect troops against snipers and improvised roadside bombs.
This has led to armour plates being attached to vehicles as temporary protection, but longer-term solutions are being sought by both the British and American military.
Thousands of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles will be ordered by Britain and the United States over the next few years and nearly every big defence company will be demonstrating its solution during the exhibition.
The American MRAP requirement is budgeted at $7 billion (£3.5 billion). Britain’s equivalent, FRES, or Future Rapid Effects System, could cost up to £13 billion.
BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence company, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this urgent need to upgrade vehicle armour.
BAE will be able to claim this week that it has become the world’s largest manufacturer of armoured vehicles, after a buying spree in recent years in which it has acquired some of the industry’s most famous names.
Representatives from Armor Holdings, which BAE bought for $4.5 billion this year, will be at DSEi under the umbrella of their British parent for the first time.
Armor makes protection plates for Humvees and is selling an MRAP transport vehicle. BAE and Armor have won about $1 billion of MRAP business so far and they hope to take a larger portion of this market having merged their product offerings.
Unmanned military equipment will be another area of interest for commanders hoping to reduce threats to their troops.
BAE, Thales and Lockheed Martin will be discussing their unmanned aerial vehicle programmes, which are used for reconnaissance and, occasionally, offensive missions.
BAE will also be showing a concept called the UXV Combatant, or Mothership, at DSEi.
This warship is designed to operate as a base for a fleet of unmanned vehicles, including aircraft, helicopters, surface ships and submarines — an extreme example of how companies are responding to military pressure to improve force protection.
— The Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition was first held in 1999 in Chertsey, Surrey.
It combined the British Army Equipment Exhibition and the Royal Navy Equipment Exhibition, which were held on alternate years between 1976 and 1991 before being combined in 1993 and then privatised
— About 25,000 visitors attended the last exhibition, in 2005
— There are new country pavilions from Bulgaria, Lithuania and Turkey, as well as expanded pavilions from France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway