DSEi – standing for Defence & Security Equipment International – is the world’s largest arms fair. It takes place every two years in the second week in September at ExCeL – the huge exhibition centre in London Docklands. It exists so that arms buyers and sellers can come together, network and make deals.
DSEi hosts well over 1000 arms companies from around 40 different countries. They bring to market every kind of military equipment, including small arms, missiles, tanks, fighter jets, battleships and riot control equipment. DSEi is also branching out into the security sector, including surveillance systems.
an advertisement from the DSEi 2001 catalogue
There are over 25000 visitors to the arms fair, including arms dealers and military delegations from dozens of countries. Delegations invited by the UK include countries involved in conflict & human rights abuses and those with desperately underfunded development needs, including Indonesia, Iraq, Angola & Colombia. Adversaries shop side-by-side for weapons to use against each other, as when India and Pakistan were both invited to DSEi 2003 after a stand-off that many feared would escalate into nuclear war.
DSEi is subsidised by the British taxpayer:
- The UKTI’s Defence & Security Organisation co-organises the event, helps British arms companies to make export deals and invites and hosts delegations from human-rights-abusing regimes.
- The MoD provides soldiers to demonstrate British weapons to foreign buyers.
- The Metropolitan Police provide security for the arms fair at a cost of over £4 million.
Opponents of DSEi pronounce it “Dicey”. Since its inception in 1999 it has attracted opposition from peace campaigners, anarchists and socialists, faith groups and local residents.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade campaigns against DSEi and organises a peaceful protest outside the arms fair, while direct action against the arms fair is organised under the banner Disarm DSEi. Despite heavy security, activists have repeatedly managed to blockade and confront delegates, and even infiltrate the arms fair. Meanwhile, publicity campaigns have undermined DSEi by shaming its corporate sponsors.
Opposition to the arms fair will continue until it is shut down for good.