Activists in London spent the first week of September repeatedly obstructing and delaying the set up of the DSEI arms fair, one of the world’s largest exhibitions for the arms industry. Thousands of activists – including groups from Europe – took part in a week of action, and over a hundred were arrested. WRI affiliates Campaign Against Arms Trade, Trident Ploughshares, Peace Pledge Union, Agir Pour la Paix and Vredesactie took part.
The week was organised by Stop the Arms Fair, a coalition of different groups and organisations, and each day focused on a different theme, including Stop Arming Israel (Monday), No Faith in War (Tuesday), and an academic conference held outside the gates. The fair was criticised directly by the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, who said the event should “get out of London.”
DSEI is held biennially at the ExCeL Centre in the docklands area of East London. Over 1600 companies exhibit to 35,000 attendees, with keynote speeches given by members of the government. The British Defence Secretary – Ben Wallace MP – opened his speech by noting it is for “the kit, not the speeches” that people attend DSEI, before evoking the 9/11 attacks in the USA and highlighting the British governments “key procurement decisions” in aiding its ability to “fight alongside our allies”.
The fair included a number of day long conferences focusing on specific aspects of the armed forces, including the “Aerospace Capability Conference”, “Land Capability Conference” the “Maritime Capability Conference”, and the “Future of Military Rotorcraft”. 67 countries (plus NATO) were invited to take part, including a number of countries at war, or on the UK home offices own list of countries with concerning human rights records. On the last day of the event it was announced that the Brazilian company Condor was ejected from the event, after it emerged their marketing material included electro-shock devices illegal in the UK.
Activists responded with a diverse and creative range of protests, often facing significant hostility from the police, who dragged protesters from the road and threatened to arrest with spurious charges. On the Tuesday – No Faith in War – hundreds of people participated in a Quaker meeting for worship before being interrupted by police officers, who arrested everyone remaining in the road. The Wednesday focused on the arms companies profiting from nuclear weapons, and activists from Trident Ploughshares were joined by Agir Pour la Paix and Vredesactie in using a number of vehicles and “lock on” devices to blockade all of the entrances.
During the fair, activists used boats and flares to disrupt the BAE Systems boat display, and huge banners were hung down the side of buildings overlooking the ExCeL Centre.
Art the Arms Fair
As well as the protests directed at the event itself, an arts collective called Art the Arms Fair hosted an art exhibition featuring antimilitarist art work from around the world. The exhibition was held in Peckham across three different venues and featured art work from dozens of artists.