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Last Updated: 09/16/2003
Protesting Arms
Simon Stander

Protests in Cancun, Mexico overshadowed the 144 arrests at London's huge arms fair.

One confrontation that took place much at the same time as the protests against WTO policies in Cancun, occurred in London during the course of the last two weeks. This time the target of the protesters was the arms fair at the ExCel center in London’s Docklands (more correctly the former Docklands). The Defence Systems and Equipment International (  is no ordinary arms fair. You can buy large numbers of those effective lightweight killing machines, the Kalashnikov, for somewhere around $500 each, which, given the black market second hand price of about $45 dollars in many parts of Africa, is somewhat expensive, but not as expensive as an aircraft carrier for $1.5 billion or a stealth bomber that costs two-thirds as much, $1 billion.


The organizers and the Metropolitan Police were taking no chances on security. It is claimed that 2,600 security guards and police officers were out and about. That led to about 144 arrests of protesters between 1-15  September.  This was far fewer than expected even though the Home Office invoked the Terrorism Act of 2000 to protect the arms industry.


Who organized the protests? Oddly that is easy enough to answer. There is a web page Disarm DSEi 2003 with 60 supporting groups listed. Heading the list (for alphabetical reasons) are the Anarchist Federation, but judging from the other supporting groups, Anarchists have also played a significant organizing role. They still adhere to the fairly clear view that capitalists (the rich) dominate the workers (the poor) and the struggle on behalf of the workers can become a mass movement.


Other groups listed, some long standing, operate on the basis of being pressure or advocacy groups intent on influencing public opinion and policy makers. For instance CAAT, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, founded in 1974 falls into that category. While it is a UK NGO it works closely with its European equivalent, the European Network Against the Arms Trade (ENAAT ).  Moreover it is dedicated to non-violent action, as virtually all the groups involved claim to be. These range from the veteran Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament founded in the fifties by the celebrated pacifist Bertrand Russell ( who also co-founded the influential Pugwash ( to the Sheffield Samba Band founded as a musical support group for protest marchers as recently as 2001 (


Why protest?  The argument is that there can be no peace while the means of destruction are being produced, while sales are being pushed by governments, and while other governments are buying. Looking at the figures gives some decided cause for alarm. The two most bellicose countries at the moment are the US and the UK. These countries are the number one and number two arm producers in the world.


Who are the biggest buyers? For the years 1998-2002 the Stockholm International Peace Institute put China, Taiwan and India high on the list closely followed by Greece and Turkey. Israel is up there, too. If the possession of arms is not about defence but about offence, this expenditure pattern may well harbinger conventional arms warfare in those parts of the world. Let’s hope not, but at least let’s thank peaceful protesters for keeping the discussion and the figures in the public eye.


For think-tanks that specialize in reporting on arms production:


Sweden:   [Stockholm International Peace Research Center]

Germany: [Bonn International Center for Conversion]