Government tries to hide embarrassing truth about arms fair invitees

9 September 2011

The UK government appears to be withholding information on the countries issued with official invitations to the 2011 London arms fair, Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI). Its published list includes just 37 countries and contains no countries from the Middle East or North Africa.

A copy of "DSEI 2011 - Defence Attache and VIP briefing document" obtained by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) states: "The importance of DSEI to nations around the world is evidenced by the number of countries that have been invited by the British Government to attend this year’s event; 125 individual invitations have been extended to 61 countries so far." This figure is similar to that of invitations issued by the government in previous years. Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia all received official invitations to DSEI 2009.

So who are the 24 unnamed countries? The UK government seems extremely reluctant to shed any light on the matter, with Freedom of Information requests and parliamentary enquiries mysteriously unanswered. CAAT is continuing to seek a full list of invitees.

However, while Middle Eastern and North African countries are absent from the government's published list, arms promotion to the region continues unabated. On Thursday, 8 September, the government supported events promoting arms sales to countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Sarah Waldron, CAAT's Core Campaigner, said:

In June 2010, junior defence Minister Peter Luff stated that the Coalition government was "not embarrassed" by arms sales. Yet it is being very bashful about telling us who has been invited to the arms fair. Unfortunately this is clearly nothing more than an attempt to avoid criticism while it continues to spend taxpayers' money promoting arms sales to repressive regimes. DSEI is more than just an embarrassment - it is an outrage and it should not go ahead at all.

For further information contact CAAT's Media Co-ordinator Kaye Stearman on 0207 281 0287 or email Kaye Stearman.

  1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems Around 80% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.

  2. According to a parliamentary answer by Mark Prisk MP, Minister at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, to Jeremy Corbyn MP, just 37 countries, plus the UN and NATO are invited. Of these countries, 19 are European, two from are North America, four from South America and the Caribbean, three from Africa, seven from Asia and two from Australia-Oceania. Not a single country from the Middle East or North Africa is included although many of these are key UK arms markets.

  3. The chain of events for CAAT requesting and obtaining information is as follows:

    On 7 June 2011, in response to a parliamentary question, the Government provided a list of 37 countries that "have been invited to send official government defence and security delegations to Defence and Security Equipment International 2011".

    In order to try and shed some light on the restricted list, CAAT submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Foreign Office. It is "standard practice" for the UKTI to seek views from the Foreign Office "on whether it is appropriate for country invitations to be issued to attend UKTI exhibitions" (Foreign Office Minister, 22 February 2010). This was requested on 16 June 2011. Despite it being far beyond the time-limit for a response, there has been no response to date.

    On 21 July, following a different Freedom of Information request, CAAT obtained a letter of 26 April 2011 from DSEI's organisers stating that "over 60 nations" will again be invited to DSEI.

    In August we received a copy of DSEI's "Defence Attaché & VIP briefing document" which stated: "The importance of DSEI to nations around the world is evidenced by the number of countries that have been invited by the British Government to attend this year’s event; 125 individual invitations have been extended to 61 countries so far."

    On 24 August we asked Trade Minister Lord Green, who is responsible for UKTI, for the full list of invitees. His office (bizarrely) put in an FoI request to the Information Rights Unit of BIS.

    While the full list is not available, some information about countries not on the published list has come to light. A UKTI DSO "Meet The Buyer Sessions" document shows that Saudi Officials will be present.

  4. Defence & Security Equipment International (formerly Defence Systems & Equipment International), or DSEI, is one of the world's biggest arms fairs and has been held in the ExCeL centre in East London's Docklands since 1999. The 2011 DSEI arms fair is scheduled for 13-16 September 2011. DSEI receives major financial, logistical and political support from the UK government, most notably through UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation. The last DSEI in 2009 hosted delegations from Algeria, Bahrain and Libya, countries which have this year turned their weapons on civilian protesters.

  5. Clarion Events bought DSEI and two other arms fair in May 2008. They have since brought a number of other arms fairs and have joined the ADS, the trade organisation for the aerospace, defence and security industries. Further information on arms fairs is on CAAT website.

  6. DSEI is not the only arms industry event happening in London. The week before DSEI sees two opportunities for arms dealers to build contacts and hone their sales patter.

    The seminar Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies, featured speakers from UKTI Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) and was hosted by state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), already criticised for its continuing investment in cluster bombs. Originally scheduled for 3pm to 6.30pm, Royal Bank of Scotland, 250 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4AA, this event was later moved to another, undisclosed location.

    Thursday 8 September - "Meet the new UK defence attachés and advisors" is a "briefing day" and "informal buffet lunch" organised by ADS (Aerospace Defence Security) and hosted by UKTI DSO where delegates can meet with newly appointed defence attachés. The defence attachés are posted to countries including Bahrain, Eritrea, Israel, Pakistan and Yemen. The venue was not disclosed.

  7. An inter-faith vigil at the site of the arms fair on Monday 12 September marks the start of a week of activities organised by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as part of Stop the Arms Fair Coalition. CAAT has organised a mass lobby of Parliament on 13 September, DSEI opening day, calling on MPs to support an end to arms sales to repressive regimes and an end to government support for the arms industry and DSEI. There will be non-violent direct action throughout the week.


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