Death, Corruption, and Profit: DSEI 2023

Jack Cinamon
Published on
September 5, 2023
(updated September 6, 2023)
Activists blocking an entrance to the DSEI arms fair in 2013 Source: Stop the Arms Fair network, used with permission

Photo: Activists blocking an entrance to the DSEI arms fair in 2013; Source: Stop the Arms Fair network, used with permission.

CT Researcher Jack Cinamon takes a look at the upcoming “Defence and Security Equipment International” arms fair and what it means that death and destruction are once again being sold for profit at London’s doorstep.


From September 12-15th, death and devastation will once again be marketed in Newham, East London at one of the world’s largest arms fairs, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition (dubbed the “festival of violence”). The 13th instalment of its kind, it boasts to exhibit the latest in “cutting-edge technologies”, while connecting the global military community. East London’s ExCel Centre will transform into a hub of arms and ammunition, with over 35,000 expected attendees from around the world.

There are 2,800 ‘defence’ and ‘security’ suppliers that will be exhibiting their deadly weapons at DSEI, including 46 of the world’s top 100 arms companies – notorious arms giants, such as BAE Systems, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Leonardo. Also in attendance will be some of the biggest suppliers in nuclear weapons systems, such as Honeywell International, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Boeing. Brazilian company Condor Non-Lethal Technologies, French firm Magforce International, and Chinese company Tianjin Myway have previously been caught selling weapons banned in the United Kingdom, including torture devices like electro-shock gear and stun-guns. A range of missiles, firearms, drones, tanks, and electronic warfare equipment – all used in the creation of unimaginable violence, as well as those who financially benefit from these devices of death, will be found here. 

Collaboration of the corrupt

The horror doesn’t end with the weaponry. DSEI acts as a marketplace for companies embroiled in corruption scandals. Significantly, ‘networking’ between representatives, allow deals to be made after the fair, by officials in their own domestic countries, transgressing the already poor and challenged UK legislation put in place that may have stopped these deals being done in the UK.

Corruption is not a symptom of the arms trade, but a pillar to its sustained existence. Many of the companies exhibiting at the 2023 edition, including the world’s largest arms company, Lockheed Martin, the German arms company Rheinmetall, and the French-state-funded arms and security giant Thales, have been implicated in cases of corruption. 

Europe’s largest defence contractor, BAE Systems, labelled by arms trade expert Andrew Feinstein as the “most corrupt company on the planet,” will also attend. Amongst many other cases, its most famous corruption scandals include a shocking £6 billion paid in bribes to secure a £43 billion contract in the infamous Al-Yamamah deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia, and the bribing of politicians in Central Europe and South Africa.

French defence contractor Airbus, is another exhibiting company. A four-year investigation by French, British, and US authorities exposed a bribery and corruption scheme spanning sales to at least 19 markets. Airbus had to pay over £3 billion in fines in a so-called Deferred Prosecution Agreement to avoid criminal conviction. However, this was only a fraction of the overall profits they made in securing the deals.

These short-lived scandals that showcase minimal consequences and rarely (if ever) prevent massive amounts of money from entering the pockets of arms dealers, are directly responsible for catastrophic harm to communities across the world. What is not being featured at DSEI is the inherent moral corruption of this deadly and secretive industry.

A marketplace for human rights violators

Corporations implicated in war crimes are among the exhibitors, with states like Israel holding a unique space. With Israel having a national pavilion at previous DSEI exhibitions, they are to host 39 of its arms companies at the 2023 London edition, this with its defence ministry providing keynote speeches, it shouldn’t be overlooked. Companies like Elbit Systems, the largest Israeli arms company providing drones to the Israeli military, boast of their weaponry as “battle-proven systems”. Horrifically, this means they use their unlawful killings in Palestine as a means to advertise their lethal technologies. Amongst other Israeli arms companies, Israel Aerospace Industries with a history of corruption in Uganda and India, will take part. 

The human cost of these weapons is undeniable. Backed by the UK, United States, France and other countries, the Saudi-UAE-led coalition’s bombing campaign in Yemen has resulted in over 19,000 direct civilian casualties, while the ongoing conflict in the country has lead to at least 377,000 deaths and what has often been referred to as the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. It is British bombs dropped from Saudi-UAE-led coalition European-supplied planes along with their (and other Western state) munitions that fuel and sustain this devastating violence. A “hierarchy of death” exists with over half the UK public unaware of the war in Yemen, whilst they fuel this death-making machine directly subsidised by the government. 

Invites to DSEI are provided to states that, by the UK’s own metrics, are a significant cause for human rights concern (see for example 2021 invites). This is perhaps not surprising given that over half of UK arms exports are sent to “human rights abusers”. Seven states invited to the 2021 DSEI fair in London were flagged by Transparency International with a “critical” corruption risk in national defence institutions. It is laughable that the UK government claims to carry out ‘strict checks’ on foreign governments attending the DSEI arms fair.

The UK’s own histories, violence, and policies that inflict violence and harm at home and abroad have long been criticised and resisted. Its negligent arms exports and associated legislation regarding conflict and war have come under recent scrutiny from organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International

The hosting controversy

How can an event of such gravity be allowed to happen? With opposition from different corners, including from the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, questions undoubtedly arise about the influence and power that comes with the arms fair.

The event is run by Clarion Events Ltd, the world’s largest arms fair organiser and promoter, having accumulated 25 military and security events globally. It is supported by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Business and Trade (DBT)’s Defence and Security Export Organisation (UKDSE), which is the government’s arms exports promotion unit – the advertising arm of this violence. Details of costs and financial arrangements between the DBT and Clarion Events remain commercially private. Requests for information on these costs through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have been refused, prioritising profit over public interest.

Whilst the Greater London Authority remains the landlord of the ExCel, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company bought control rights of the ExCel in 2008 for more than £321 million. The lease terms don’t allow the London Mayor to prohibit arms exhibitions, despite his opposition. Corruption Tracker reached out to the Mayor’s office for a comment. A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told us:

“The Mayor is completely opposed to this event taking place in London and is appalled that the capital is being used as a marketplace for those who wish to trade in weapons…

The Mayor has previously written to both the organisers and ExCel to remind them that London is home to thousands of people who have fled conflict and suffered as a result of weapons like those exhibited at this event – and continues to urge them to reconsider hosting the fair in London in the future.”

The arms fair needs to be shut down, not relocated. It is both frustrating and unsurprising that efforts to shut it down by politicians have been limited and weak, proving little and superficial substance to the rage of anti-war protests seen from 2022 and stances for ‘peace’ and actions against war. With limited concern and influence from opposing politicians, the might of the arms industry, propped up by the state, and driven by capital, becomes even clearer: the industry of profiting from death imposes its presence.

Fuelling war for profits

The sole purpose of the fair is to push for the sale of as many weapons as possible. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have seen arms company shares rise significantly, a feature which is only expected to increase visitor numbers. 

Despite differing views on the issue of arms exports to Ukraine, it is clear that militarising countries (including Ukraine which has also been involved in “illicit arms flows” to Africa and the Middle East) and consequently the world even more, will not bring about peace, but further death and destruction. This is even more true for spaces like DSEI – fairs of arms companies with long histories of corruption, states that kill and oppress communities, and arms dealers and politicians that have always valued profit over life. Recent shipments of cluster munitions from the United States to Ukraine, which violate international laws due to their heightened potential for causing harm to civilians, serve as an example.

Whilst arms dealers line their pockets, they destroy communities and environments across the world. Of course, the violence involved has been felt the most by communities in the Global South, but exists and links to the violence of borders, detention centres, prisons and policing systems in the West too. The racial capitalism that holds up and is perpetuated by the arms industry is not only reflected in the global consequences of the arms trade, but felt within the UK as well. In one of London’s poorest boroughs and “one of the UK’s most deprived areas”, is where this showcase of violence plans to take place. Newham also “has the most diverse population profile of any local authority in the country”, and came under the spotlight with the area being hit hardest by the pandemic. Various campaigns around healthcare, housing, anti-police, and anti-border initiatives have resisted DSEI’s unwelcome visit every two years, and have demanded resources be put into areas that preserve life, environment, and communities.

The financial cost of policing at the event is expected to cost the taxpayer in excess of £1 million, with more than 3,000 police to be deployed. Previous fairs have seen undercover policing and mounted officers deployed against protestors. As protestors have often expressed – this allocation and deployment of resources uncover the violence of UK policing, which has both a global and local role: the police protect the arms trade. The government’s clampdown on protest will not deter communities from demanding life over death.

Means to an end

As the event’s doors open, a wave of protests will once again rise against it. Campaigners, local community groups, solidarity initiatives, anti-war activists, and countless others are expected to express their outrage at this biennial showcase of violence and the impunity provided to all those involved. 

It is clear that the DSEI arms fair lacks public support and that it must be brought to an end. British government support in hosting the event only allows arms trade corruption to further manifest, while the weapons and technologies sold will unquestionably lead to death and violence, at home, on borders, and abroad. The world deserves better than to be a playground for destruction and devastation.

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