Coming Tuesday the world’s largest arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi), in Londen, once again opens its doors for arms producers, military and government officials. Over 25 Netherlands companies will be present, as will be a Dutch Navy vessel. A Dutch government delegation, headed by either the Minister of Economic Affairs or the Minister of Defence, will visit DSEi in support of the defence industry.
DSEi expects over 20,000 visitors and has over 1,200 exhibitors. Great opportunities for both buyers and sellers of arms and a broad range of defence and security equipment: “With new focus areas and a vastly increased seminar and demonstration programme, this year’s content reflects increasing global concern with a broad spectrum of threats, from cyber attacks to piracy. The traditional dimensions of land and sea will be complemented by increased air capabilities and a large security dimension.” Especially the growing importance of the (homeland, border, cyber) security sector for the defence industry is being used as a promotional tool.
The last edition of DSEi (2009) welcomed official delegationsfrom such countries as Angola, Bahrain, Botswana, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Tukey and Vietnam. Invited but not attending were for example Algeria, Iraq, Libya and Morocco. All these countries are involved in (internal) armed conflicts, face serious poverty issues or are known human rights violaters. Still, the UK Government’s Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) saw no objections to inviting them.
This year will be more of the same, with the Middle East still being regarded a key market for the defence industry, despite the so-called Arab Spring, in which weapons from amongst others the UK and the Netherlands where used against the popular uprisings in several countries.
Through the years DSEi has been surrounded by controversies not only concerning the nature of the regimes whose delegations were welcomed at the fair, but also the equipment for sale. In 2003 and 2005 cluster munitions were on display by Israel Military Industries and South Africa’s Denel, despite a sales ban by the organisers. Other companies offered torture equipment, including electro-shock weapons.
DSEi used to be organised by the partially Dutch-owned company Reed Elsevier. In 2007, under heavy pressure from activists, shareholders and the editorial board of its own medical publication ‘The Lancet’, Reed finally ended its involvement in the arms trade. Nowadays Clarion Events is the prime organiser of DSEi. Still the Dutch connection hasn’t completely gone: Maarssen-based Synergy is part of this company.
For the Dutch military industry DSEi is one of the most important events of the year. It is one of three arms fairs for which the Dutch Ministries of Defence and Economic Affairs annually lend support. This means that “The exhibitions are visited by a governmental delegation under guidance of either the Minister of Defence or the Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.” And: “These exhibitions are supported actively by a permanent representation of CMP (Commissariat for Military Production, part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs), Defence and the NIDV in the Netherlands Pavillion to arrange contacts with foreign governmental representatives and to investigate the possibilities of offsets. Moreover the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation is sponsoring the “Holland Lounge”, a meeting place for the participating Netherlands enterprises and their international business clients.”
DSEi will also be visited by the new Hydrographic Survey Vessel of the Royal Netherlands Navy.
Under the guidance of the NIDV (Nederlandse Industrie voor Defensie en Veiligheid) preparation meetings for attending companies started in March. The list of Dutch companies present at the arms fair includes Akzo Nobel, EADS, Ten Cate, DSM, Imtech, Stork and Van Halteren. Some large or multinational companies have their own stand, most smaller companies are part of the so-called Holland Pavillion, a collective stand.
As always DSEi will meet large protests. On the 13th of September a Day of Mass Action is planned. Other days will see all different kinds of other protests, organised by amongst others the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT, the Stop The Arms Fair coalition and Disarm DSEi. The Stop the Arms Fair coalition has a clear message: “No more bloody arms fairs in London or anywhere”!
[MA, 8 September 2011]