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London’s DSEI arms fair: profit is death

FIFTY-THREE people have been arrested at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protest at the Defence and Security Equipment International arms trade fair at London’s ExCel Centre. They act for all of us.

It is in the marketplace that guns become fetishised. What transforms an inanimate object into something imbued with a complex series of meanings for the human beings drawn into this circle of desire and gratification is, in the final analysis, profit.

Nowadays the people who construct adverts for the Bushmaster series of assault weapons make sure that it is a woman depicted behind the sights of their rapid fire rifles freely available in the United States.

But just a few years ago the North Carolina-based arms manufacturer promoted its latest product under the marketing tag: “Consider your man card reissued.”

This marketing trope has lost much of its allure with mass shootings carried out, on all the evidence, principally by immature young men in the grip of a racist and right-wing mindset, conditioned by a political culture in which the projection of force is conceived as the essential foundation of nationhood.

But be assured. The people doing business at the DSEI trade fair may be in the grip of barely repressed desire —  fuelled by a sense of personal inadequacy and stimulated by the patina of invincibility with which for some people these commodities are imbued — but they are there for rather more prosaic reasons.


There is a great deal of money to be made in selling into the domestic US market weapons like the the assault rifles upon which Bushmaster model their consumer products. 

But there is exponentially more money to be made from the sale to governments of such small arms along with missiles, battle-ready boats and ships, armoured vehicles and military aircraft, communications, command and control equipment, drones and chemical weapons.

Over 2018 British export arms sales rose by £5 billion to £14bn compared with the previous year. 

What projected Britain into second place in this unsavoury enterprise was the sale to Qatar of Typhoon Eurofighter jets and to the US components for the Lockheed Martin F35 stealth fighter. 

Lest anyone think that the arms trade is restricted to the exchange of of high-tech stuff with our gallant US allies or  fraternal co-operation with our European partners in peace, the Department of Trade and Industry reminds us that 80 per cent of Britain’s arms exports go to the Middle East.

Aerospace dominates Britain’s defence exports and at the centre of this business is the F35 which itself is an exemplar of transnational co-operation between arms and aerospace companies in which firms like BAE Systems embody the interpenetration of British and US capital.

The British government has issued licences for the export of more than £5bn of weapons since the war in Yemen began. 

This very nasty conflict — described by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe — is the latest hotspot in a region in which the projection of imperial power is at the root of unimaginable human tragedies and the source of unimaginable profits.

Such is the sense of outrage at this cynical death-dealing that popular protest has put the arms manufacturers on the back foot in the court of public opinion. 

But the existential threat to the British businesses in this lethal trade lies in a government that might construct a foreign policy based on principles other than profitability and the projection of imperial power.

If nothing else this reveals why a malign combination of British, European and North American capital is so determined to ensure that Britain’s government remains in the hands of people for whom the search for profit drives their deepest desires.


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