What is DSEI?

DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) is one of the world’s largest arms fairs. It is run by Clarion Events, who are headquartered in London, but who also host 24 other arms fairs around the world (alongside other less bloodthirsty events such as the Baby Show).  DSEI takes place once every two years in September, at ExCel – the huge exhibition centre in London’s Docklands.

In 2019, DSEI brought together 36,000+ arms buyers and dealers from 114 countries to network and make deals.  In 2021, governments and military delegations will be browsing the wares of 1,600+ arms companies selling everything from guns and bombs to fighter jets and warships, with live action demos promised to take place in the Royal Victoria Dock.

They will be joined by companies selling surveillance equipment, drones and other tools of repression to police and state agencies, as Counter Terror Expo takes place alongside DSEI.

DSEI is an important event for the UK state, which heavily subsidises and promotes the arms industry, and helps organise the arms fair.  In 2019, the UK invited delegations to DSEI from 67 countries, including countries involved in military conflicts and at war, and on its own list of human rights abusers.

You can find out more about the states and arms companies that attend DSEI, the locations of their offices and factories, the weapons that they sell, and who they sell them to on the website of Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Can we actually stop the arms fair?

Shutting down a multi-million pound arms fair protected by security fences and police lines, with a huge amount at stake for the organisers and the UK state, might sound like a pretty big ask.  But it has been done before.

In 2008, the Asia-Pacific Defence and Security Exhibition (APDSE) became the latest Australian arms fair to be cancelled, after the Australian International Defence Equipment Exhibition was shut down for good by protests in 1991.  APDSE was to have been the first arms fair held in Australia for 17 years, but didn’t go ahead, in the words of the Acting Premier Kevin Foley, because of concerns about “the scale of the planned protests”, “the cost of security” and, without any hint of irony, supposed “possible threats of violence”.

More recently and closer to home, the Defence, Procurement, Research, Technology and Exportability (DRPTE) arms fair was chased out of Cardiff then Birmingham in 2019, after having been driven from Bristol in 2014.  Glasgow sank Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) in 2018, with the local council vowing never to host arms fairs in the city again.

Where is the ExCeL centre?

View Larger Map

The ExCeL centre is in London’s docklands.

Tube: nearby stations include Royal Victoria, Custom House, and Prince Regent on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). On the Jubilee line and DLR, slightly further away, is Canning Town.

Car: Follow signs for Royal Docks, City Airport and ExCeL (postcode E16 1XL).

If you’re from outside London: the TFL website explains how to get around London.

For more transport information, see ExCeL’s website. They also have an interactive map so you can get a sense of what it looks like inside.