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off the shelf murder at Defence Systems and Equipment International Big Sale!
from SchNEWS Issue 228, Friday 17th September 1999

"We obviously don't talk about burnt bodies and smashed bones. It tends to put the clients off their vol-au-vents'"
- Missile salesman

Inside: decked in pinstripes or uniforms and shiny regalia, 20,000 or so arms-industry delegates, beating the Christmas rush. Not a place to take yer mum shopping - and an invite a tad harder to obtain than a copy of the Argos catalogue.

Outside: the characteristic peace movement mixed-bag of Quakers, troskyist paper sellers, direct action types, and the odd backbench MP. And more than a few police. At least as many combat fatigues as were inside the exhibition, and more running around and scrambling across obstacles than on the Krypton Factor assult course.


Welcome to Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) - the UK's biggest bombs n' guns emporium. Taking place simultaneously in on MoD land near Chertsey, Surrey and at London's Docklands, don't shop around for your military-industrial hardware - just come to and peruse our exhibition.

And so thousands of participants came from across the globe, representing regimes as far apart as Algeria, China and Saudi Arabia. They rolled up to Chertsey into a grey expanse that looked as muddy as the car parks at a wet Glastonbury - and just as miserable - before herding into the field of marquees. But the projectiles advertised on these stalls would be dangerous to juggle with, the pipes here too full of high-grade aircraft fuel to try to smoke, and the chemicals unlikely to make anyone feel the rush come. The hippies weren't invited to this one.


Still, they rushed there anyway and things kicked off at the exhibition, where several hundred activists flanked the main entrance, at intervals flinging themselves in front of the oncoming coachloads. The tailbacks quickly built up as the anti-arms trade boys and girls crawled beneath the vehicles or sat in the road; chanting Buddhists all the while banging out a rhythmic backdrop to the fun and games.

Meanwhile, on the river in East London, amphibious activists harried the six or more state-of-the-art warships, their in-something-of-a-state dinghy tearing along only slightly faster than it let in the Thames. (The ropy old motor, though, shall stall no more: butter-fingered police, after confiscating the vessel, let the engine slip into the bosom of the water. A replacement is coming courtesy of an apologetic constabulary - oops).

Back in rainy Chertsey, police had had to close the main approach route to traffic, giving throngs of dripping wet arms dealers a chance to get to know the lovely Chobham road. Traipsing on foot the mile or more stretch down to the fair's entrance, many apparently suffered collateral damage* to their dignity. One delegate, displaying an IQ similar to that of the average subscriber to Guns n' Ammo magazine, took a moment to lunge at a protester with a poorly-aimed umbrella.

Some who arrived by train had a better time; not, however, those on the Tuesday morning service held up for the best part of an hour, after a female activist locked on to a carriage at the last station but one from the exhibition site. Chatting on the platform was a pleasure, as the extended stop provided unrivalled access to the considerable number of arms buyers and sellers aboard the train. As too, were the catering staff contracted by the exhibition. " We'll spit in their food! ' they promised, expressing the same dim view of their arms-trading carriage-fellows as most of the other passengers.


Dear Murderous Bastard,

You Are Cordially Invited to An Opportunity to Purchase Some of the World's Finest Instruments of Torture & Death. Set in the Heart of the Beautiful Surrey Countryside, the Defence Systems and Equipment International Offers you the chance to choose from a wide range of Missiles, Attack Aircraft and Internal Repression Equipment, all in the Unrivalled Peace and Security that only the Ministry of Defence can offer.

Then there were those who got inside.... stowing away in one of the delegates' coaches, one power-dressed woman protester passed unnoticed in the exhibition for several minutes before getting kicked out with some of the industry literature she'd managed to glean. Others ran the gauntlet of forest terrain and barbed perimeter fence, creeping through the undergrowth like soldiers before scaling the double-fencing of the inner-compound.

Then yesterday evening, the target was a Park Lane hotel (don't flash your YHA membership card in this place) where many of the arms industry movers and shakers went to enjoy a banquet. There, one hotel security guard went and punched a guy who had climbed the hotel gate to drape a banner; giving him, nonetheless, rather less injury than, say, the Kurds in eastern Turkey, trade unionists in Kenya, or any of those lucky others at the receiving end of some of that shiny new military hardware.

* collateral damage - a Gulf War euphemism meaning human casualties, as used by many of the "peacekeeping enthusiasts' attending DSEi. - SchNEWS VocabWatch



Among the MoD's guests are the following delightful governments... Saudi Arabia: A savagely repressive fundamentalist regime, that according to Amnesty, " collects arms like others collect Rolls Royces .' Israel: Subject of innumerable UN condemnations for the occupation of Lebanon, ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories, including 20 unlawful killings this year, and recently found guilty by its own high court of torturing prisoners. Syria: Systematic human rights abuse and repression of political opponents. Algeria: Military dictatorship responsible for 100,000 deaths since cancelling the 1992 elections.

Such is the generosity of Britain, we even help such states pay for their weapons, thanks to the Export Credit Guarantees Dept. ECGD has the British tax payer cough up for recipient country that spend more than they can afford, so allowing exporters to trade with "high-risk'states that no true capitalist would touch. Naturally, this is used largely for UK plc's favourite export, arms - meaning that we pay for dodgy regimes to get nasty weaponry for free, and the merchants of death to make a killing. And the best bit is that it all gets counted as "aid'.


The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) admitted in Parliament this year that export credits were covering the sale of arms to Indonesia worth #691 million. The DTI has also rescheduled #200 million in debt repayments from the beleaguered Indonesian economy so that arms deals could continue.

Sadly, due to a few domestic problems (not "cos the UK govt withdrew their invitation, which still stands), Indonesia was unable to attend the DSEi. Fortunately though, the Defence Export Services Organisation, has a permanent bargain-basement store in Jakarta their stated aim: to raise Britain's arms sales to Indonesia tenfold, to #3bn by 2007.

Don't forget - even when countries are officiouly banned from importing British arms, UK companies can still arrange arms transfers as long as they don't pass directly through Britain. And helpfully, the govt trains military officers from foreign armies - including the Indonesian special forces.



No-one goes away empty-handed. Two more:

Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (AFCEA) This one's already been driven out of Belgium, (" politically and ethically undesirable ' said their parliament) but is coming to the Renaissance Hotel near Heathrow airport, from October 27-29.

Soon after, the nortorious Contingency and Operational Procurement Exhibition (COPEX) takes place at Sandown Park Racecourse in Surrey, Novemeber 2-4.

Both these snappily-titled events provide plenty of opportunity to go play with the bastards.

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