Defence & Security Equipment International, one of the world’s biggest arms fairs, will showcase cutting-edge military equipment to some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world. TRNN speaks to CAAT’s Andrew Smith about the campaign to stop it
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. On September 12th, one of the world’s largest arms fairs shall be returning to London, England. The event shall be showcasing some of the most cutting edge military and security equipment, designed for armed conflicts, immigration control and of course more and more, military grade equipment is now being used to apparently protect us from terrorism in urban centers and during civilian unrest such as the G20 meetings or environmental protests. The fair is known as Defense and Security Equipment International or DSEI. It is being organized by Clarion Events who was awarded the most respected company of the year, 2017, by the Association of Events Organizers. It is supported in part by the UK Ministry of Defense and the Department of International Trade. In other words, the taxpayers. The DSEI describes itself as the world’s leading event that brings together the global defense and security sector to innovate and share knowledge. In other words, they bring together the military industrial complex. The represent the entire supply chain on unrivaled scale it says on the conference website. In attendance will be Defense Ministers, international military and armed forces, key industry players and private sector companies. However, not everyone is upbeat about the upcoming event. A campaign known as stop the arms fair has been gathering momentum in opposition to it. Here’s a short clip of one of their videos of protests. Joining us today to discuss the DSEI and the campaign to stop it from happening is Andrew Smith. Andrew is a spokesperson for the campaign against arms trade, CAAT. Welcome back Andrew. ANDREW SMITH: Thank you. Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: Andrew, we know what happens at a country fair with Ferris wheel and perhaps cows and pigs and so forth, but what exactly happens at an arms fair. ANDREW SMITH: Unfortunately it won’t be anything quite as wholesome as the picture you’re painting, unfortunately. DSEI is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world. What that means is that it will bring many of the biggest arms companies in the world together under one roof to sell as many weapons as they can to as many people as they can. They won’t just be targeting people off the street like you or I. It’s going to be targeted very much at military reps and delegates from governments and regimes from all around the world. Every single year, DSEI brings some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world to London. If we look at the guest list from last year, we can see governments like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which have absolutely appalling human rights records, where on the guest list. There will be even more of the same this time around. DSEI exists for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to sell as many weapons as possible. SHARMINI PERIES: What are your concerns regarding the arms fair? You’re organizing a number of actions. What are you precisely fighting against? ANDREW SMITH: Well the outcomes from these arms sales could well be deadly. At the moment UK fighter jets and UK bombs are playing a central role in the Saudi led bombardment and destruction of Yemen. Now that has created one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world, and many of the companies who’ve profited from that, such as BAE Systems, such as Raytheon, will have massive attendances at DSEI and they will be trying to push their weapons onto regimes like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and other countries in the region. We’re talking about a very small region, but Middle East accounts for roughly two-thirds of all UK arms exports. It’s a small region but one which is certainly getting a hugely disproportionate amount of weapons at the moment. SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now as you know, the arms industry has really taken over in terms of one of the largest industries on the face of the earth. Some people argue that we need this industry and technologies that are being showcased at DSEI, that it’s necessary in order to keep world order. Some people argue that it’s necessary for jobs, keeping us safe from terrorism and so forth. What is your response to that? ANDREW SMITH: Well, if I could break it down into two answers. I’ll look at jobs and then talk about security more broadly. I mean, when we’re talking about jobs, numbers are very often hugely overstated. Taking the figures which come from the aerospace defense and security group, the ADS, which is actually one of the bodies organizing DSEI. ADS is a body that represents arms companies, so it’s highly unlikely to downplay the figures. They say that actually there’s 55,000 jobs in the UK dependent on arms exports. Now this is a lot of job. That only accounts for 0.2% of jobs in the economy. We’re talking incredibly skilled jobs. These are people who we believe their skills can be put to far better use and far more productive industries and far better, more sustainable industries and industries in which we want to see government putting as much time and resources and political support into as they currently do to the arms trade. We believe that the government needs to shift its priorities and really focus on what it can do, which can play a more positive role in building a positive greener better world rather than supporting an industry which depends on war and conflict in order to turn a profit. Now when you’re talking about security, we often hear about … The argument that government puts over is that by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for sake of argument, it keeps the streets of London safe. Now, we don’t believe that is the case and there’s a couple of reasons for that. I think first of all, when you’re selling weapons on to brutal repressive regimes, when they use them, it’s going to be for oppression or it’s going to be for aggression. That creates the circumstances under which, under which terrorism and violence are more likely to thrive. Beyond that, governments like Saudi Arabia cooperate with the UK on matters of international terrorism because they’re UN bound to do so. It’s something they do because they have to as well as because they want to. Now we do not believe that Saudi Arabia for sake of argument would stop cooperating with the UK because it stops selling arms. We don’t believe that security policy can be dependent on selling billions of pounds worth of arms to a regime. And if it is, then that raises serious questions about the government’s approach to security, if it’s dependent on arms sales. Now we don’t believe it is. We believe that these relationships should be based on human rights. They should be based on democracy and they should be based on cooperation, but they should not be based on the sale of weapons. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, Andrew, last time we interviewed you, it was regarding a high court judgment which decided that UK arms sales could continue to be sold to Saudi Arabia. This was despite the crimes against humanity being committed there, meaning in Yemen as you just mentioned. Is there a connection between that decision and DSEI taking place in London today? ANDREW SMITH: Well DSEI has been taking place in London every two years for about 15, 20 years now I think. But what that verdict did was, that verdict, which we are appealing at the moment. Hopefully we’ll have updates on soon. What that verdict meant was that government will have viewed it as a green light. There will have been celebrations in the palaces of Riyadh but there will also have been celebrations in the corridors of Downing Street and in the corridors of all the major arms companies who have profited from this conflict. I think what the message that sent out is that business can carry on as usual, irrespective of the terrible atrocities that Saudi forces have carried out against the people of Yemen. It was a verdict we disagree with in the strongest of terms and it’s one we’re appealing. Unfortunately we believe if that verdict is not reversed, then it’s going to be regarded as a green light and it’s going to set a very bad legal precedent going forward. SHARMINI PERIES: Now Andrew, since we had that interview about the court decision, the United Nations has come out and a part of the United Nations actually wants to put Saudi Arabia in the child-killer list because of the number of children that has died in Yemen. We’ve also seen the UN issue a report on the conditions in Yemen in terms of the refugees and in terms of the cholera epidemic going on as a result of this war and so forth. Will that material assist you in your case? ANDREW SMITH: Well what has been produced by the UN has been very thorough. When we were putting together the papers for our case in the first instance, we did cite a lot of reports from the UN. There has been new evidence that has come to light. I think all of that builds a very clear, strong and compelling case against the conduct of Saudi military in Yemen, where they have waged a brutal bombardment. They have destroyed civilian infrastructure up and down and across the country. Thousands of civilians have been killed and one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world has been allowed to take root. We have seen one of the widest cholera epidemics. One of the fastest cholera epidemics, since records began has taken root in Yemen. The situation there is dire. It is terrible and the UK government has been utterly complicit in that destruction since day one. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. It’s not taking cue from Germany who has actually banned some exports to Saudi Arabia and even Canada has now at least officially reprimanded Saudi Arabia for using some of the military equipment developed by Canada in some of the bombings in Yemen, where it was actually reported on by a journalist on the ground there. Does that seem to have any impact on the UK here? ANDREW SMITH: Well I think with Germany and Canada, you’ve got two slightly different situations, because where Germany has stopped exporting in certain forms of weaponry, the response from the Saudi government hasn’t been to end all diplomatic relations with Germany and hasn’t been to allow terrorism to happen in the streets of Germany. It’s been to accept that and continue cooperating in other areas, which I think actually sets a precedent which the UK should take note of. In terms of what’s happening in Canada, I know that it has been a strong source of controversy in Canada and rightly so because I know the government has signed up to, Thierry, to some extremely, some very lucrative deals with arms companies in Canada. I think certainly the fact it is getting more scrutiny in Canada can only be a good thing. I think the more pressure grows worldwide, the more people know what’s happening in Yemen, the devastation which has been inflicted on the people of Yemen, then I think more likely governments are to take action because there’ll be more pressure on them to do so. SHARMINI PERIES: All right Andrew. We’ll leave you for now, but there is a similar campaign and a fair coming up in Washington next month. We’re going to be covering that as well. We are hoping to go around the world as these arms fairs actually get set up and cover them here at The Real News, so I hope you can join us then. ANDREW SMITH: Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.