London Arms Fair Shrugs Off Economic Gloom
Bahrain protests 2011
One of the world's biggest arms exhibitions ends in London today after four days of weapons salesmen touting their wares, ranging from guns that can shoot around corners to an "invisible" tank.
With no respite in sight to the economic gloom on both sides of the Atlantic, major defense cutbacks are under way in the UK and the United States.
The British government plans to reduce defense spending by 8 per cent by 2015, and the US is cutting at least $350 billion from previous project spending.
So exhibitors at this week's Defense Security and Equipment International arms fair are looking instead to markets such as India and Africa to boost sales.
And with the continuing unrest in many Arab countries, the Middle East arms market remains extremely lucrative, and unaffected by the international outcry about the violence that governments such as Syria and the Gaddafi regime in Libya used against protesting citizens during the Arab Spring.
Human rights activists and anti-arms campaigners held a series of events across London in protest against the presence of delegates from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, both accused of using weapons bought from the UK to suppress demonstrations.
Of the 65 national delegations attending the arms fair, 14 were from what human rights groups called "authoritarian regimes".
Libya was not invited, but Western arms dealers will be buoyed by National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil's statement that Tripoli was not planning to buy Russian weapons, and would review arms contracts with Russia signed by the former Libyan government. Russia said earlier this year that it stood to lose as much as $4 billion in existing and potential deals with the Gaddafi regime.
Minister says UK follows strict export rules
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox told delegates at the arms fair that Britain's weapons manufacturers should tailor their products for overseas markets, to protect defense and security jobs and profits during a period of spending cuts at home.
Exports of UK-made weapons would help drive the country's economic recovery, Fox said. But he insisted that Britain would not arm repressive regimes, describing the UK's export-licensing guidelines as being among the toughest in the world.Continued on the next page