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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Head to head: 'Why the arms trade must go'
A protestering wearing a hat shaped like a missile
Campaign: Week of protests in London
Europe's largest arms fair is taking place in London over four days. Below, a representative of the anti-arms trade lobby sets out why he thinks it's immoral and should end.

Click on the link in the text for the view from the defence industry.

Martin Hogbin, Campaign Against Arms Trade

For five days in September, the Excel conference centre hosts almost 1,000 arms companies who have come to London to sell arms, bombs and other weapons to buyers from all over the world.

Why do we need a defence industry? The fundamental raison d'etre is one of national security, to ensure we keep our own armed forces supplied with materials and services
Major General Alan Sharman, Defence Manufacturer's Association

One in three of the world's countries will be at the DSEI arms fair, all of them shopping for military equipment.

Friend and foe will browse side-by-side for weapons that they will end up using against each other.

And all this will take place behind security fences and police lines, away from the public gaze.

Arms exhibitions are not just plush showcases for weapons companies.

Signed and sealed

We believe that DSEI 2003 will see arms deals signed and sealed which may lead to weapons being supplied to some of the worst regions of conflict in the world.

Back in the days before New Labour, the British Army and Navy paid for and hosted their own fairs.

Those events were privatised and put in the hands of an exhibitions firm called Spearhead.

What the government effectively tried to do is put itself at arms length to something it wholeheartedly supports.

Although DSEI is a privately-run event, the government draws up the main invite list, contributes 250,000 to its organisation and provides hundreds of military personnel to run the show.

So when DSEi 2001 opened at Excel, it was no surprise to see both Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw attend.

While the government says it's a force for good in the world, this year's arms fair will be bigger than ever thanks to government support.

Guest list

The guest list for DSEI is kept secret right up until the exhibition - but both the government and the organisers invite who they like.

In 2001, some 23 countries at war or involved in serious conflicts were on the guest list.

Countries invited in the past include those with the worst records of human rights violations: Indonesia (1999), Colombia (2001) and Saudi Arabia (three times running).

Among the most controversial countries to have made the invite list this time are Syria (accused by the US of sponsoring terrorists), and China.

We believe that if the government invites human rights abusing states to DSEI, it is giving them the moral and political support they need to buy arms.

But if the arms were not sold, then countries could not use them on the scale they do. The world would simply be a better, safer, happier place.

Government ministers will attend, companies will be looking for their deals. Everything will take place in secret.

Hundreds of police will be drafted in to protect them. And outside, concerned local people who don't want this in their backyard will be kept away.

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