In 2019, when I was 15, I attended a protest against the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair (DSEI) alongside hundreds of peace activists, many of whom were Quakers. We gathered outside the ExCel centre in London to block the entrance, share art, sing, and hold meetings for worship in remembrance of the countless victims of war.
After a few hours, the police presence grew and they organised themselves into a firm line. An officer announced that everybody had to leave the road immediately or they would be forcibly removed. I remember watching mesmerised as, still singing, the remaining protestors were pulled off the floor one by one and taken away to be arrested. The bravery and resolve it takes to continue the protest, despite its risks, and the judgment and uncertainty faced, has stuck with me.
Fanning the flames of war
This year's DSEI arms fair is set to take place between 12-15 September and will yet again facilitate the mass sale of weapons of death and destruction to military delegations around the world, fanning the flames of war and human suffering.
These weapons will be sold to human rights abusing regimes and used to fuel violent conflicts in regions already suffering from war and repression. The arms industry has a significant history of corruption and illicit trade, and some of the weapons sold legally will end up in the hands of terrorist groups or non-state actors, causing further instability. Illegal weapons, including torture devices, have also been promoted at DSEI, such as those exposed by Caroline Lucas in 2013.
A cycle of violence
The arms trade divides societies along economic and political lines by promoting militarisation and perpetuating a cycle of violence, exacerbating existing inequalities. The production and use of arms creates pollution and resource exploitation, impacting vulnerable communities and ecosystems. Climate researcher Lennard de Klerk calculated that the war in Ukraine caused 120 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions in just its first year.
In the UK, the weapons industry also diverts huge quantities of funds and attention away from humanitarian issues and social infrastructure in the name of security when, as advocated by groups such as Rethinking Security, it is issues such as public health and the cost of living which really threaten vulnerable populations.
While DSEI is organised by a private business, Clarion Events, the UK Government facilitates and promotes the fair by offering official endorsements from relevant government departments and logistical support such as security arrangements. The sale of British arms yields vast economic profit as well as diplomatic value, in terms of trade agreements, networking and the flaunting of the UK's arsenal.
By facilitating the sale of weapons to countries with poor human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, the UK is complicit in the resulting suppression of dissent, violation of human rights, and any war crimes. In short, Quakers in Britain are living in a country which is profiting from the suffering and murder of people overseas. The weapons industry is an open secret which functions best in silence and ignorance, and this is why, as Quakers, we must call attention to it.
Putting Quaker faith into action
The arms trade violates all of the fundamental Quaker values, not only peace, but equality, justice and stewardship. Quakers believe that all people are equal and precious, and therefore we should seek non-violent solutions to conflicts through discernment, dialogue, mediation and diplomacy.
We advocate for economic systems that prioritise human welfare, social justice and sustainable development rather than industries that profit from violence. Therefore, campaigning for disarmament, the non-proliferation of weapons and the redirection of resources toward peaceful and humanitarian purposes is putting our faith into action.
So if you're about in September, please join the thousands of protestors, including hundreds of Quakers, in living our beliefs and stopping the arms fair. A series of protests will be taking place between the 7-12 September during the setup of the fair.