World's largest weapons fair opens in London

Ready, aim, fire: Delegates at a previous fair try out some of the hardware on offer. © PA

More than 1,500 exhibitors from the defence and security industries will sell their goods at an exhibition starting today. The event has been criticised, but are weapons just part of life?

In 2012, London’s ExCel Centre hosted 143 sessions of sport. Boxers, table tennis players and martial artists battled for Olympic medals as crowds of up to 10,000 cheered them on.

In the next four days, three times as many people will gather at the ExCel for a very different reason. They are attending the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition (DSEI), the largest arms and security fair in the world, where they will be able to buy material capable of ending or saving human lives.

The event is supported by the British government. Several ministers will attend, and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon will deliver a keynote speech. Senior military figures, including all four Chiefs of Staff of the British armed forces, will be joined by delegations from around the world. They will encounter weapons which can be used on land, at sea and in the air, ranging from knives to jets. The exhibits will also include specialist material to respond to terrorist attacks, medical equipment and components of unmanned vehicles.

The fair’s organisers and supporters say the event will help to confront threats and uncertainty around the world, such as the rise of Islamic State and aggression from Russia, and deal with unforeseen circumstances such as natural disasters. They also stress the economic importance of the UK’s defence and security sector, which has a turnover of £30bn and plays a part in employing 378,000 people. DSEI alone is predicted to bring £30m into the London economy.

But the fair has provided a focal point for controversy around the arms trade. Among those invited to the fair are representatives of five regimes which have been criticised for their record on human rights and three others which are on a Foreign Office list of ‘countries of concern’. Critics argue that Britain is fuelling conflict and repression: in the last five years, the UK sold military equipment to 19 countries listed by the UN for grave violations against children. Some fear that British weapons are being used against child soldiers.

Armed and dangerous?

Some see weapons as a fact of life: for example the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, says it is ‘sensible’ to have legal arms in the hands of governments. States can only defeat those who mean them harm by taking up the means to defend themselves. Weapons aren’t the problem; bad people who misuse them are.

But activists from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade disagree. Weapons make the world more dangerous. They make death more likely and encourage enemies to escalate their capabilities against each other — inflaming dangerous situations. The arms trade is a threat to the future of humanity.

You Decide

  1. Should the arms fair go ahead?
  2. Can selling weapons make the world a safer place?


  1. Write five words which come to mind when you hear about the arms fair, and be prepared to justify why you chose them.
  2. Write a newspaper report on the arms fair. Include quotes from an interview with its organisers and another interview with someone from Campaign Against the Arms Trade. You could do this on video or radio if you have the ability to do so.

Some People Say...

“We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace.”

Mother Teresa

What do you think?

Q & A

Do I benefit from this?
The defence industry argues that this arms fair brings big economic benefits to the UK. If they turn over £30bn per year, that means a lot more money which is available to spend within the UK — and a lot more people have jobs. But campaigners against the trade argue that it contributes to worldwide instability, destroying lives and worsening global economic conditions — making us all worse off.
Is there really a major problem with child soldiers?
Unfortunately there is. There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today. Around 40% of these are believed to be girls, who are often enslaved and abused by male combatants. Red Hand Day, which takes place on 12 February 2016, aims to raise awareness of this problem.

Word Watch

Chiefs of Staff
There is a Chief of Staff for the British armed forces on land, sea and in the air, and another who is in charge of commanding joint forces.
Five regimes
These are the governments of Angola, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Thailand. All five have faced condemnation from civil liberties groups over their human rights records. Last week, the European Parliament voiced concern over the situations in Azerbaijan and Angola. Egypt is currently ruled by the military and there are concerns that the rule of law is not being upheld there.
Three others
These are Colombia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a source of particular concern, as its regime runs a strict system of Sharia (Islamic law) which includes several physical punishments regarded as barbaric in the west. The Saudi regime is also very restrictive of the rights of women.
19 countries
This is of the 23 countries worldwide whose treatment of children gravely concerns the UN. The UK government approved arms export licences worth more than £735m to these countries between June 2010 and March 2015.

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