“British by birth” reads a tag line superimposed in bold, black text on top of a freshly painted camouflaged tank. Yesterday, the world’s leading biennial arms trade show, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), opened its doors in London’s ExCeL centre, bringing with it much controversy, protest, and questionable quotes from international trade secretary Liam Fox.
As over 34,000 visitors pour into the great exhibition hall of war and destruction, it seems as though political moral high grounds are exempt inside its walls. Delegations from oppressive, human rights violating regimes such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are welcomed with open arms, alongside them are representatives from the world’s most powerful (and rich) arms companies. It comes then as no surprise that in the weeks leading up to this charade, 100 protesters have been arrested.
An arms trade show taking place in the centre of a city that otherwise promotes liberalism, and justice raises many concerns. And protesting against its abhorrent insensitive approach is certainly credible, but lacks turf on an argument too entangled with politics’ most powerful forces: lobbing, international trade and war. The arms trade complies with all laws and export controls imposed by the British government – and that includes Britain's export of weapons to 22 of the 30 countries on its own human rights violation watch list. The law can be likened to a child’s malleable plasticine, in rainbow colours, when large scale profit is involved.
In the lead up to the show, Sadiq Khan said “I am opposed to London being used as a market place for the trade of weapons to those countries that contribute to human rights abuses.” While Liam Fox stood proudly during yesterday’s opening day as he exclaimed “We must work to defend and promote the established defence industry.”
Stopping global war, exploitation and human rights violation too often feels like an incomprehensible task. But allowing what is essentially a war expo to take place inside a glistening arena, outside of the contexts of war and its visible effects, is a crime on every level – whether it complies with regulations or not.