DSEi, the world's biggest arms fair, opens in east London on September 13, 2011. But arms fairs don't organise themselves - a lot of work goes into inviting the right mix of despots and dealers. So who makes DSEi happen?
Well, that's where Clarion Events step in. While its events portfolio looks family friendly, with the Baby Show, the Spirit of Christmas Fair, and Antiques for Everyone on their books, don't be fooled. In 2007 Clarion bought its first arms fair, DSEi, after a successful campaign forced its embarrassed former owners Reed Elsievier to sell it. Clarion have a ferocious appetite for arms fairs -- its snapped up 6 more since. In fact, Clarion is so keen on arms fairs that it's even become a member of the Aerospace, Defence and Security group, the UK industry body for the arms market -- a clear statement of ambition from the company.
In a world increasingly marked by violence, Clarion want to develop “a broad and growing portfolio” to tap into key conflict-ridden markets. This autumn, alongside DSEi, it'll be launching the Counter Terror Expo show in the United Arab Emirates. With pro-democracy movements under fire from elites, Clarion anticipates great interest in its 'Counter Terror' show: “It’s a model that works well in the Middle East...There’s a lot of money being spent here in the UAE on homeland security technology, so it’s a good market in which to roll out our brand”. Although Clarion are quick to point out that the huge profits it makes from selling killing equipment is pocketed with government support and approval, recent revelations around the Arab Springs demonstrate that government policy and morality often don't overlap. With the invite list for DSEi 2009 sporting an all-star cast of tyrants, despots, and human rights abusers and the 2011 show not looking much better, Clarion's defence is wearing thin.
Clarion: for all your military needs!
Clarion's Duncan Reid is the director of the DSEi arms fair. His aim is to make DSEI “an enjoyable experience”. On display in the 2011 show will have live demonstrations of unmanned drones -- implicated in civilian deaths in Gaza, Iraq, and Pakistan -- and the exhibitor list runs from the big-shots like Heckler and Koch and BAE to the small end of the market. At DSEi, you can buy everything from a warship to a microchip, a grenade launcher to an F16. Market-leaders in exhibiting the latest killing technology, through DSEi and their other defence shows Clarion aim to “bring together the key personnel concerned with the design, development, production, procurement, deployment and operation of defence and security equipment, systems and services”. In other words, they want to link up the people who make technology and parts which kill, maim, or disable human beings in the most effective possible way with people who want to kill, maim, or disable human beings.
Clarion's strategy for expanding their 'Defence and Security portfolio' is managed by Tim Porter, the director of Defence and Security at Clarion Events. Clarion have opened offices around the world to help host arms fairs, in places such as Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. Unsurprisingly, Clarion have faced a long-running campaign against them. From die-ins and direct actions at their arms fairs, Clarion has been hit with criticism from all sides. Visit www.stopthearsmfair.org.uk or find the campaign Stop The Arms Fair on facebook to see what campaigners in the UK are up to at this year's DSEi.
“Helping Our World”: Clarion's PR make-over
The campaign against Clarion has been so effective that it had to hire a PR firm, Luther Pendragon, to protect its reputation. And when the arms fair you just bought has previously been caught offering cluster bombs and leg irons for sale, you'll need one. The Clarion website warns against the “incorrect information, and deliberate misinformation, about DSEi” which is “disseminated via a small number of people whose ultimate objective is to stop the production of any kind of arms or defence equipment” Here they answer such hard-hitting questions as “so if you wanted to buy something from a particular exhibitor – despite the fact it isn’t on display and it might be illegal – all you would have to do is travel to a country where the laws aren’t as strict to seal the deal?” and “didn’t Mark Thomas find illegal equipment on display at DSEi in 2005?”. Incidentally, the answers are 'yes', and 'yes', although Clarion insist that “what he found was literature about equipment”. There's nothing like a sales catalogue full of torture equipment to give your public image a turn for the worse.
You can also read about their “core values of Passion, Care, Imagination and Trust”, expressed through their “Helping Our World Scheme” and “healthy incentives such as fruit baskets and pilates classes” for staff. Unfortunately, their “teamwork both on a local and on a community level” in the London Docklands, site of the DSEi arms fair, cost £630,000 to police in 2009 as the ExCel centre was turned into a militarised zone and anti-terror legislation was used on protesters.
This month Clarion's flagship project, the DSEi arms fair, opens on September 13th. Stop The Arms Fair have called a day of action for the first day of the fair. Clarion might reap huge profits from the arms trade, but it's ordinary people around the world who pay the price. On the Stop The Arms Fair website, you can find out everything you need to know to take action- get involved, and stop Clarion's war profiteering for good!