Sept. 9, 2003: A man walks past a tactical F2000 rifle stand at the DSEI (Defense Systems and Equipment International) exhibition, in east London, which is showcasing a range of military hardware from around the globe.Reuters / Kieran Doherty
Sept. 9, 2003: Naval vessels stand displayed outside the DSEI (Defense Systems and Equipment International) exhibition conference, in east London, which is showcasing a range of military hardware from around the globe.Reuters / Toby Melville
Exorcism, “die-ins,” an “arms-dealer speed dating” ambush: It’s just another day in the life of the international defense trade and the peace protesters that love to loathe them.
While the U.S. government debates military intervention in Syria, buyers and sellers of top military tech from around the world convened in London this week, where the world’s biggest defense and security trade show kicked off Tuesday. About 30,000 visitors from 121 countries -- and protesters galore -- are expected to walk the floors at the biennial Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) fair.
The event has ignited speculation and debate over the participation of Russian defense companies alleged to have supplied the Syrian government with arms and military equipment. On Monday, the show’s organizers announced that the Russian export agency would not be allowed to attend.
“We can confirm categorically that Rosonboronexport is not exhibiting at DSEI 2013,” officials said. Only five Russian military companies are exhibiting, which the show described as humanitarian and rescue organizations and a communication components makers.
DSEI also stated that Kovrov Electronmechanical Plant, “manufacturers of bomb disposal robots,” and MDB COMPAS, which makes aircraft navigation equipment, are also exhibiting.
Latin America recently held its own large-scale defense trade show, where Rosonboronexport and Russia made a strong appearance. In London, Latin America continues this robust defense posture with especially big participation by Chile and Brazil.
From the Middle East, Israel, Jordan and United Arab Emirates are making the strongest showing.
Exorcisms, Speed-dating and Lie-ins…oh my
But before the event began, protesters were already mobilizing and launching initiatives in the hope of preventing business getting done.
Over the weekend, protesters’ lively antics were already well underway with attempted blockades of arriving naval vessels and military vehicles.
A highly amateur dramatic mock exorcism was staged to rid the site of “evil arms dealers.”
Campaigners continue to stage what appears to be a lying-down version of the traditional sit-in. Labeled “die-ins” by the protesters, the technique seems to require a protester to lie on the ground and pose as if they were killed. Others looked as though they were simply taking a nap.
Also in the protesters’ arsenal this year: a speed-dating attack, thanks to Stop the Arms Fair and Sparkles Not Shrapnel.
“After a long day spent warmongering at the DSEI arms fair, we think many arms dealers will be wondering, ‘What’s it all about? Why am I doing this?’. We think they’d like somebody to talk to. We want to be that somebody. We want to help,” reads an “Arms Dealers Speed Dating” invitation.
Their website further explains the dating ambush: “This is an outreach exercise aimed at convincing arms dealers to find a new career, and a new direction.”
This protest plan seems to involve ambushing “arms dealers” while they are enjoying a pint or two in pubs after the event.
Stop The Arms Fair says it is a coalition of groups and individuals who have joined forces to put an end to DSEI and all U.K. arms fairs. This same group also organized a “meet and greet” Tuesday morning targeting attendees arriving by airport.
In other after-hours protest operations, the Disarm DSEI group tweeted the battle cry “don’t let the arms dealers dine in peace” along with details of a London restaurant. Protesters were encouraged to ambush an event to raise money for charity.
At previous DSEIs, peace protesters bought a tank and attempted to drive it to the event – a plan that proved to be a non-starter.
British law enforcement always exhibits a strong presence at the event to preserve the peace; on social media protesters claimed arrests were made over the weekend.
The show goes on
In spite of the protester initiatives business was buzzing inside the event, with 40 international pavilions vying to woo and win buyers -- and American companies made a particularly strong showing.
Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, South Korea, Switzerland, UAE and the UK are also going big this year.
A few new zones are making their debut this year alongside the key traditional ones focusing on land, air and naval capabilities.
Reflecting the growing focus on cyber warfare, a dedicated Cyber Pavilion was revealed.
It featured a record number of first-time exhibitors alongside mammoth cyber-players like Fujitsu, Dell, Cisco and BAE Systems Detica.
Another new zone, Medical & Disaster Relief, has been added this year, to highlight the latest innovations for armed forces medical personnel. Military medicine technology advances together with rigorous training have been pivotal to substantially improving casualty survival rates.
The Security & Special Forces Zone has expanded again this year featuring more than 70 new exhibitors and an enlarged special forces and tactical equipment area.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.