- The Welsh government attended the controversial London DSEI Arms Fair again this year, after being criticized for holding a booth there in 2019
- Countries attending the event include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Colombia, which are also on the UK government’s Human Rights Watch list.
- Peace and anti-war activists denounced the Welsh government for attending the fair while simultaneously claiming to be committed to human rights and promoting peace
- “More civilians will die in Yemen as a result of the agreements reached with DSEI,” the Peace group said.
Image via issue 10 on Flickr
The Welsh government has decided to attend a controversial London gun fair again this year, where advanced weapons are marketed for use by some of the world’s worst regimes for human rights abuses. The Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event in London – which is also supported by the UK Ministry of Defense – takes place every two years.
In 2019, six companies were supported to join the Welsh government stand at DSEI. The government came under heavy criticism at the time, with Prime Minister Mark Drakeford saying he would reconsider his government’s presence at future events.
After the 2019 event, the Prime Minister initially said that the Welsh Government’s presence at the arms fair was aimed at ‘supporting important Welsh companies which operate, not directly in the arms business, but in other areas, such as cybersecurity â.
However, the BBC reported that since this comment the Welsh government has confirmed that Radnor Range, a weapons and explosives testing center, was one of the companies on its stand. A response on access to information from the United Kingdom declassified The website also revealed that the Welsh government spent Â£ 85,350 on the DSEI 2019 event itself and Â£ 9,851.28 for the expenses of 12 officials.
This year, the Welsh government chose to fund the Aerospace Forum Wales to ‘lead the Wales presence’, rather than having its own booth, although its presence at the event did not go unnoticed. The forum describes itself as ‘the trade association for all companies operating in the aerospace, defense and space sectors in Wales’.
The Welsh government said it had attended the fair to show its support for companies “present in Wales such as Airbus, Thales, General Dynamics, Jacobs and Qinetiq” and told the BBC that officials “will engage with companies looking to invest in Wales and meet with a number of SMEs [Small and medium-sized enterprises] with regard to opportunities for investment, innovation and job creation.
Depending on the event website, âDSEI 2021 will host exhibitors from across the defense and security supply chain, from Primes / OEMs to Tier 3 manufacturers.â While some companies at the show are focusing on cyber defense, d ‘others operate outside the digital sphere.
The Welsh government has come under heavy criticism for returning to the fair.
“When the Welsh government appeared at the last DSEI, Mark Drakeford promised to review his presence there,” said Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), an organization without a political party. “I am sad and angry that they have reappeared, as well as funding Aerospace Wales to be a part of this vile event.”
He said the Welsh Government’s support for the London Arms Fair “stands in stark contrast to the many who traveled from Wales to participate in the protests and nonviolent direct action at the event”.
“They are inspired by Wales’ proud history of peace activism and non-violent resistance to injustice.”
The UK’s Conservative government has invited 62 countries to the gun fair, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Colombia. This week, as the UK and Welsh governments mingle with representatives and ministers from those countries, they will also continue to condemn their human rights violations.
“The Welsh Government’s international strategy has laudably stated that Wales is’committed to human rights and the promotion of peace‘, but how do we sort that out with the queue to sell guns at a gun fair? Argues Ed Bridges, also a PPU activist in Cardiff and a member of their elected council.
âIt sends the completely wrong message to Wales to send representatives to this event where they will rub shoulders with human rights abusers seeking to exchange death and misery. “
The UK Government’s Full Report 2019 on Human rights and democracy states that in Saudi Arabia, “the use of the death penalty increased in 2019 and included the execution of 37 men in a single day”. They also mention the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and “the general repression of civil and political space”.
It is no secret that the British government is the second largest supplier of arms to the Saudis, whose coalition began to intervene militarily in Yemen in March 2015, and has since carried out more than 20,000 air strikes on the country, killing more than 18,500 civilians.
“More civilians will die in Yemen as a result of deals reached at DSEI this week between arms dealers and Saudi Arabia,” said Symon Hill of PPU. “We can’t believe for one moment that the majority of Welsh people want to be part of it.”
The UK continued to put guns before Yemeni lives and sold $ 1.88 billion value of weapons – including missiles and bombs – in Saudi Arabia between July and September 2020 according to figures released by the Ministry of International Trade earlier this year. Even when the United States temporarily suspended pending arms sales in an alleged attempt to end the war in Yemen, the United Kingdom continued to allow sales.
While defense and national security fall within the reserved powers of the British government and are not vested in Wales, the Welsh government has also been criticized previously for allowing the training of Saudi Air Force pilots in Wales. More … than 100 Saudi pilots have been trained at RAF bases in the UK over the past decade, many of which are based at RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales.
In August 2020, plans to develop a new military training site in North West Wales were put in place socket after widespread opposition and outrage over the likelihood that Llanbedr airfield would be used to train Saudi pilots involved in the bombing of Yemen.
Campaigners have also criticized the Welsh government attending the fair while Mark Drakeford sees himself as a proud internationalist.
The Stop the War coalition has drawn attention to the Prime Minister’s silence on the plight of the Palestinians, despite thousands of protesters in Cardiff this summer against Israel’s killing of more than 250 Palestinians in 2021 and its ethnic cleansing program. It’s “shameful,” says Stop the War, but the government’s participation in this year’s DSEI – where weapons are traded in Israel – is “unashamed”.
According to the Stop the War coalition, “For more than 20 years the Welsh government has forged links between Wales and the arms industries, selling it as a job creation.”
âThe Labor Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called for the world’s biggest arms fair to leave London. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell marched against the Liverpool Arms Fair. Why won’t Mark Drakeford do the same? Said the group.
A Welsh government spokesperson defended the government’s presence at the event, writing that the companies attending “constitute a significant part of the Welsh aerospace, cybersecurity and defense sectors, which are collectively worth at least Â£ 4 billion sterling and employ over 18,000 people in Wales “.
The Stop the War coalition said Wales must “turn swords into plowshares”. They refer to the visionary 1970s unionists of Lucas Aerospace (now BAE Systems) who produced detailed plans to build highway buses, kidneys, and renewable energy systems instead of weapons.
Likewise, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has a “Renewable energy weaponsWhich argues that highly skilled manufacturing jobs – which governments claim are essential to the UK’s economic prosperity – could be shifted to ‘green jobs’ that would be both highly skilled and beneficial to society, and would be part of the the fight against climate change, which constitutes a major threat if the advice of climatologists is not taken into account.
“The skills and commitment of workers in the arms industry could be better deployed to face the real threats we face: the climate emergency, the risk of new pandemics, the horrors of poverty”, says Symon Hill of PPU.
It is also important to note that the Welsh government has previously declared a ‘climate emergency’. Climate change can be both a catalyst and consequence of conflict – from competition for resources, to the large amounts of fuel used in intense conflicts, which can generate enormous amounts of co2 emissions and spillover effects such as air and soil pollution.
The gun fair is expected to meet fierce resistance in the streets. In Liverpool last weekend, thousands of people protested against the planned arms fair in the city, which is due to take place on October 13. Actor Maxine Peake and former Labor leader and friend of Mark Drakeford, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the huge crowd.
When crowds gather outside the event in London, the Welsh Labor leader will have to choose which side to side with.