At least 28 firms from Scotland are due to attend an arms fair in London dubbed a “festival of violence” – including a US arms giant with a factory in Fife that’s been linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen.
The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair will take place at the Excel Centre in East London between 12-15 September, with around 34,000 attendees expected.
It is one of the largest arms fairs in the world, a bi-annual event that brings more than 1,500 exhibitors together with military delegations from around the world. It includes governments with dire human rights records.
Hundreds of arms trade critics are expected to protest against DSEI, with dozens already arrested in the lead-up to the event.
DSEI facilitates arms sales ranging from rifles to tanks, and from fighter jets to battleships.
Some 56 countries have been invited, including regimes accused of gross human rights abuses. Among them are Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.
Companies based in Scotland due to attend the event include Raytheon, which makes laser guided systems for smart bombs used in Yemen and Chemring, a company based in Ardeer accused of selling weapons to Gulf State countries who use them to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations.
Major arms firms with facilities in Scotland also due to attend DSEI include BAE Systems, Leonardo, Thales and Lockheed Martin.
Critics of the arms trade say the event is immoral and should be scrapped, while arguing that oppressive regimes should not be invited.
Campaign Against Arms Trade said the guest list for DSEI includes a range of “despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers” from regimes that have committed “terrible abuses” against their citizens.
“Yet UK civil servants and government ministers will be rolling out the red carpet for them. If Theresa May and her colleagues care for human rights and democracy then it’s time to shut down DSEI,” the campaign’s Andrew Smith argued.
“DSEI will bring those that have inflicted a brutal humanitarian crisis on Yemen together with companies like Raytheon that have profited from it every step of the way,” he added.
“None of this would be possible without the complicity and support of Whitehall and Downing Street. UK arms have been central to the destruction, and deals done at DSEI can only make it worse.”
If Theresa May and her colleagues care for human rights and democracy then it's time to shut down DSEI Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
CAAT’s views were echoed by Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, who asked a parliamentary question to obtain details of the nations invited.
She said: “DSEI is a dark stain on our country’s already tarnished reputation. It’s time that this festival of violence was shut down for good – and for the UK to engage in peacebuilding rather than trying to cement itself as the world’s weapons dealer.”
Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) promotes itself as the world’s leading event for the global defence and security sector, with a statement on its website saying: “DSEI represents the entire supply chain on an unrivalled scale.”
The UK pavilion – hosted by the arms trade group ADS – will be the largest at the event, according to DSEI. The Department for International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation will showcase 36 companies selling everything from weapons to high tech warfare systems.
Another critic of the event is the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE). It claims the trade deals involve highly sophisticated and “invasive cyber surveillance technology” which the UAE government uses to spy on its own citizens.
ICFUAE will be protesting outside the event. “Between 2012 and 2016 the UAE was listed as the world’s third largest importer. During this period, the UK licensed around £350m worth of arms for export to the UAE,” said an ICFUAE spokesperson.
“At the same time the UAE has become increasingly dismissive towards international treaties, human rights law and UN conventions,” added the spokesperson.
“The UAE are charged with committing war crimes in Yemen, where they hold a significant naval, ground and air presence, and the UN has documented a humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the conflict there. Furthermore, it was recently revealed that UAE forces have been running clandestine prisons where there have been numerous reports of extreme torture.”
However, Stephen Phipson, head of the Department of International Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation, said: “DSEI is one of the best global defence and security networking events and an important opportunity for UK companies to identify joint venture partnerships and industry collaboration.
“It is also an excellent opportunity for UK companies to profile innovative equipment in both sectors to delegations from across the world”.
Majority oppose arms sales for fighting in Yemen
Ahead of the event, a poll by Save The Children said that the majority of the British public think the UK should suspend the approval of arms sales to countries fighting in Yemen.
The survey found that 51 per cent of Britons oppose approving any arms sales to nations involved in the conflict, which includes Britain’s ally, Saudi Arabia. Just 11 per cent support government policy and think sales should remain unchanged.
Britain has approved £3.8 billion of arms licences to Saudi Arabia, the leader of a multinational coalition in Yemen, since the conflict escalated in March 2015.
Exports include Paveway IV guided bombs with guidance systems produced in Glenrothes by Raytheon, and Typhoon fighter jets.
Nearly three in five – 59 per cent – of the 1,658 British adults surveyed by YouGov described the approval of arms sales as “unacceptable” if they risk being used in Yemen – compared to 15 per cent who said they are “acceptable”.
More than half of British adults – 51 per cent – said they had been unaware the UK Government was approving the sale of arms which could be used in the conflict in Yemen before taking the survey.
George Graham, Save the Children’s Director of Humanitarian & Conflict Policy, said: “It is clear from this poll that the public believes weaponry built on the British Isles is casting a dark shadow over our standing in the world.
“All sides have killed and maimed thousands of children in this brutal war – but the fact remains that only one side, the Saudi-led Coalition, is dropping bombs supplied by Britain.
The public believes weaponry built on the British Isles is casting a dark shadow over our standing in the world George Graham, Save the Children
Graham urged the UK to urgently suspend arms sales until there was a proper international investigation and allies stopped blocking vital humanitarian aid. “Britain has much to be proud of – we are one of the biggest donors of aid to Yemen,” he said.
“But our bombs are also being sent to countries which are killing Yemeni children, bombing schools and hospitals, and impeding aid access.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not reply to a request to comment on the poll. Raytheon also did not comment.
The survey results came in the wake of one of the bloodiest weeks in Yemen’s war this year. As many as 58 civilians were killed between 17-24 August, a higher level than the death toll for the whole month in either June or July.
The number of airstrikes in just the first half of this year surpassed the total for 2016, according to the UN Human Rights Office.
More than 4,000 children have been killed or maimed by all sides since the conflict escalated in 2015. Airstrikes continue to be the leading cause of child casualties.
Other critics of DSEI and UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia include hundreds of artists from around the world who support Art the Arms Fair, an event close to DSEI.
The art exhibition will run from 12-15 September, coinciding with the arms fair. Hundreds of artists have already submitted work, including Guerrilla Girls, Peter Kennard and Darren Cullen.
List of firms with premises in Scotland due to attend DSEI arms fair
Our featured image is artwork called Yemen Fly Bombs by Ahmed Jahaf. The other artwork was produced by Joseph Steele and is called BijiRojova.