Europe’s biggest arms fair took place at the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) in London’s Docklands from Monday to Friday last week. The biannual event was hosted in the Excel Centre near Custom House underground in London E16. Various ghastly offerings included the Hellfire Missile and the Nlaw (Next General Light Anti-Tank Weapon). Campaigners including CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) criticised the government for inviting countries with dubious human rights records like Colombia and Indonesia.
In all 1,200 exhibitors from 34 countries took part. The stand of Lockheed Martin had replicas of the Hellfire and THAAD (Theatre High Altitude Area Defence) missiles, both of which have been deployed in Iraq. Doug Terrell, a Lockheed Martin executive on the stand enthused of a new version of the mainly air-launched Hellfire missile, “It has been used regularly and very successfully in Iraq and this one is exactly the same.” He continued, “The US Army, Marine Corps and Special Forces absolutely love it.” Almost 20,000 Hellfires have been sold worldwide.
Paul Beaver, former lieutenant colonel in the British army and ex analyst with Jane’s Information Group was spokesman for the DSEi. He has said of it: “It’s a trade show like the motor show.” I don’t think they sell cluster bombs at the motor show though.
Here is what he wrote on the Defence Industry Dinner to be held at Whitehall in October:
By Paul Beaver.
Thursday, 15 September, 2005
Spearhead Exhibitions has presented the forces charity SSAFA Forces Help with a cheque for £10,000 raised with the exhibitors at DSEi 2005. Each year, DSEi chooses a worthy cause to support and this year, together with the DMA and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, DSEi is supporting SSAFA Forces Help. The charity is the key supporter of the regular and reserve forces, their families and loved ones.
SSAFA is organising the first ever Defence Industry Dinner on 31st October, to be hosted by General Sir Michael Walker, at the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall. Tables are still available and those interested should visit the SSAFA Forces Help in the Boulevard.
(SSAFA stands for Soldiers', Sailors', Airmen and Families Association.)
HERE’S A PLUG FOR THE FAIR:
Organised by Spearhead Exhibitions, DSEi is the UK’s showcase for new and future defence technology and is the largest exhibition for the world’s defence companies to display their land, sea and air capabilities at a single exhibition. DSEi provides an excellent opportunity for members of the media to gather the most up-to-date news and information on the global defence and aerospace industries.
The exhibition was run in conjunction with the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), the arm of the Ministry of Defence, which promotes the sale and licensing of British-made military equipment. The press preview day on Monday 12th included a catwalk type display show organised by DESO, with soldiers in full battle dress posing with weapons. These included the British L96 sniper rifle used in Iraq as well as chemical detection equipment, airfield illumination systems and light anti-armour weapons.
The exhibition was criticised by the Metropolitan Police for diverting resources during a period of a heightened terror alert. London Mayor Ken Livingstone also denounced the fair.
Selling weapons is of course a huge business and if anything seems to be growing, at the exhibition in 2001 there were 664 exhibitors from 21 countries – the number of exhibitors this year was double that.
Countries with bad human rights records took part including China, Indonesia, Colombia, Saudi Arabia and Algeria. The words of the late right-wing Tory Minister Alan Clark spring to mind when he said: “I’m not particularly bothered about who we are trading with, so long as we get paid.”
Campaign against the arms trade (www.caat.org.uk) estimates that every two minutes someone dies as a direct result of armed conflict and that in 9 cases out of ten it will be a civilian. CAAT also estimates that the government spends over ₤750,000,000 every year subsidising the arms trade. Under `New Labour` the UK has licensed military equipment to 20 countries engaged in serious conflict. Prime Minister Tony Blair has personally lobbied other governments on behalf of arms company BAE Systems.
I looked in at the end of the fair on Friday when it was estimated by a local that perhaps `60 or 70` protesters had been present, around 100 were said to have taken part on previous days. The stations before Custom House on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) were well policed even at 3.30pm. In fact at the end of the event the place was still crawling with cops. In total some 4,000 officers took part in policing the exhibition at an estimated cost of ₤4 million. If we divide this by the number of demonstrators this works out as some ₤40,000 for every protester. The powers that be obviously see the opposition to Ghengis Khan Enterprises as a threat, which must be contained at no inconsiderable expense. The well-heeled delegates would doubtless have stayed at top hole establishments like the Millennium Hotel in Sloane Street where accommodation is ₤152 room only and a club sandwich would set you back ₤12.00 . They had a gala night out at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane where one can stay at the Terrace Suite for the consideration of ₤2,500 a night or if one is in diffs one could make do with the Harlequin Suite for a paltry ₤2,050 a night. I made do with a 70p coffee and a 50p Kit Kat in the Excel Café in Freemasons Road. I looked at the papers but few if any seemed to cover the arms fair.
The asylum seeker bashing Daily Mail and the Sun both had items about the threats posed by Iran’s weapons of mass destruction, presumably with no irony intended. `IRAN RAISES THE NUCLEAR STAKES` (Mail) and `NUKE SHOCK` (Sun) caught the eye on a day when huge amounts of weaponry were up for sale.
Ann Leslie on page 14 of the Mail asked `Has Germany got the guts to vote in Frau Thatcher? ` - while Max Hastings on page 15 opposite wrote a piece `In praise of the stiff upper lip`. Max, dubbed `Hitler` Hastings by Private Eye is six feet six inches tall, as he tells us interminably. Most papers that day had the note scribbled by Bush at the UN, which ran: `I think I need a bathroom break - is this possible? ` Rory Bremner brilliantly satirised this on Sunday evening asking `I think I need a bathroom break, I mean I’m not sure? ` Rory went on in Bush’s Texas drawl: “Oh, Condi that’s such a nice, warm feeling. I think I just passed a motion, - no, I vetoed it!”
I and a campaigner from CAAT tried handing out some leaflets to the delegates as they left the arms fair. The question “Excuse me, sir, how do you feel about your participation in the arms trade?” failed to elicit a response from most though one well-proportioned gentlemen exclaimed: “I had a wonderful time!"
One of the last people to leave was Paul Beaver, spokesman for the fair. Mr Beaver, an amiable ex-military man who reminded me vaguely of Colonel Pickering in the musical `My Fair Lady` consented to an interview. He disputed the long held view that Hawk attack aircraft had been used by Indonesia to repress the people of East Timor. I said that John Pilger had made a documentary about East Timor which suggested the use of Hawk aircraft to which he replied: “I’ve crossed swords with Pilger a number of times. The problem with John Pilger is that he doesn’t use what I would call good sources.” He said that the aircraft, which were most probably used, were Sky Hawks which is an American aircraft designed for ground attack and perhaps my beef should be with the Americans.
He said that the Americans and British had different arms control regulations and that you “can’t lump the two of us together”. I suggested the sale of arms through a third party might be possible and he said “a Brit can’t do it.”
I made the point that many of the weapons used against Iraq were illegal such as cluster bombs, fuel air explosives and depleted uranium. He said that cluster bombs were not illegal. I showed him a photo of the Al Ameriyah air raid shelter in Baghdad, which was destroyed by two cruise missiles in the first gulf war in 1991. He asked: “What was underneath the Ameriyah air raid shelter? What was on level five?” He said that level five was the air defence headquarters and that Saddam Hussein had put civilians in harm’s way. “Do you want a dictator who does that?”
I asked: “Can you give me any proof of what was under the air raid shelter?” to which he responded “Can you give me any proof that I’m not right?”
I referred to the awful 13 years of sanctions on Iraq, which according to UNICEF had claimed over a million lives and led to the resignation of senior UN officials Dennis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck. He said that the sanctions on Iraq were completely useless.
I brought up the recent attack on Fallujah and criticised the use of ordnance such as napalm and phosphorus. I mentioned the use of depleted uranium and he said you had to be careful about depleted uranium. He said it had a very short half-life to which I responded wasn’t it 4.5 billion years? (Rather a long half-life). He disputed that figure saying he thought I would find it was shorter than that.
He said that by 2020 the Americans wanted to have no troops based abroad but to have all of their military capability in, say, continental Europe and to be able to extend that to give what the military call precision effects. In other words to be able to use the smallest amount of fire power to get the biggest amount of effect.
The term is full spectrum dominance which means dominance from space to the bottom of the sea. I asked about the `crazies` (the neo-cons in Washington) who seem to want to attack one country after another and I suggested Iran would be next. He disagreed saying that he didn’t think the Americans would attack Iran as they had bitten off more than they could chew in Iraq.
He said that the number of weapons used on Iraq during the second gulf war was only about a third of that used in the first gulf war.
The bombing of the Chinese Embassy during the war on Serbia came up and he suggested it was deliberate and had actually written an Observer article to that effect.
He said that the Americans are very scared of what he called a `Muslim Bomb` meaning the fear of an Islamic country having nuclear weapons.
He said there was a problem in negotiating with Al Qaeda as opposed to negotiation with the IRA as the latter had a defined agenda (a united Ireland) while the former’s goals were unclear.
I asked about the point made by the peace campaigners that the West was responsible for creating many monsters abroad and reminded him of their chant: `Saddam, Bin Laden, Pinochet - All created by the CIA! `. He concurred saying that the West has a “Huge responsibility because if you look at who created Bin Laden” – it was due to a policy of training the mujahadeen against the Soviet Union.
He said the intervention in Sierre Leone in 1999 was a good thing and I reminded him it was actually in 2000. Still, it’s easy to lose track of all the wars Tony Blair has taken Britain in to.
My final question was “Is there such a thing as an ethical foreign policy?” That I suppose is really a rhetorical question and he just smiled.
Mr Beaver, an urbane and cultured man, is the smiling face of the establishment. He wished me good luck as we went our separate ways after the interview.
What is to be done about the arms trade? Is it realistic to campaign against something which is so profitable? More rhetorical questions.
Simply giving up is not an option and of course there will be world wide demonstrations against the continued occupation of Iraq this Saturday, the 24th of September. Protests are scheduled for London (see www.stopwar.org.uk) also Shannon in Ireland, Toronto, Canada; Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, USA; Madrid, Spain and others.
To those who bemoaned the small turnout at the demonstration at the DSEi exhibition it could be pointed out that the authorities took the protest very seriously as can be seen by the huge police operation. Peace will not come easily but the struggle should continue.
As the Spanish say `Paz vaya con Dios` which can be read on one of the many placards at Brian Haw’s display in Parliament Square. Parliament Square is where the London march and rally will start at noon on Saturday 24th. May see you there.
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