As the Taliban take over Kabul’s presidential palace, you’d be forgiven for wondering who it is that two decades of war and foreign occupation has benefited.
In 2001, the US, UK, and their allies invaded Afghanistan. The invasion certainly hasn’t benefited the people of Afghanistan; since 2001, an estimated 47,245 civilians have been killed.
Most people in the US haven’t benefited either, with $2.261tn spent on the war, and 2,442 military personnel killed.
Neither has it helped ordinary people in the UK. More than 450 British soldiers have been killed, and in 2013, the estimated cost of the UK’s war in Afghanistan stood at £37bn. Most UK combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, but 750 remained until this summer as part of NATO’s force.
So who has benefited?
One of the groups of people who have clearly benefited from two decades of war are the CEOs and directors of international arms companies.
For example, British weapons company BAE’s profits shot up after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Many of the people who’ve been at the helm of the UK’s Afghanistan policy have also directly had skin in the arms game.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace cried crocodile tears on LBC recently. But what he didn’t mention is that he used to be a director of QinetiQ, an arms company whose share prices were soaring 11 years ago after it gained contracts to supply weapons for the war in Afghanistan. British rapper Lowkey tweeted:
Ben Wallace was Overseas Director of arms company QinetiQ, which benefited handsomely from the occupation of Afghanistan. https://t.co/d4mmDgm9BO
— Lowkey (@Lowkey0nline) August 16, 2021
The revolving door goes the other way too. Data from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) shows that 196 ex-public servants are now in arms trade jobs.
And they’re meeting in London this September
From 14-17 September, one of the world’s largest arms fairs is coming back to London’s Docklands. At least 1,700 arms companies will be exhibiting, and official delegations and government employees from the UK and abroad will be doing their shopping. No doubt the industry attendees will be counting their profits from two decades of war in Afghanistan and looking for new conflicts to exploit.
It’s worth remembering that the Defence Security and Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair was underway 20 years ago, on 11 September 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Center and lit the spark which paved the way for the US’s disastrous ‘War on Terror’.
One person who was at the demonstration back in 2001 reflected:
On [September 11] I was among about the hundreds of people taking part in a protest organised by CAAT outside the DSEi arms fair. Many events were cancelled that day and in the following days and weeks. Sports events, cultural events, political events, the UN Special session on Children, which I was had been doing some work around – all these we cancelled. The arms fair however, continued. More deals were signed and more arms contacts were made even in the light of that awful mass killing.
Whilst the fact that there was a major arms fair taking place in the UK at the very same time as this awful act of terrorism was something of a coincidence I think there are [connections] here. I think there are real connections between for example, our proliferation of weaponry through the arms trade and our real insistence – despite all evidence to the contrary – that world security is best served by an ever increasing ability to inflict death and destruction on others – and that desperate, awful, self-destructive act of mass violence.
The Canary‘s senior editor, Emily Apple, was also at the protests that week:
On 12 September, share prices across the world had crashed and many major events were cancelled. But DSEI continued and arms company share prices soared. So we were back on the streets, blockading arms dealers from reaching the fair. We were told by the police that we should be ashamed of ourselves, that we had no respect for the dead because we were out protesting. But they didn’t think to question the fact that DSEI continued, didn’t care that those who’d make obscene profits from the attack, and the inevitable subsequent war, were continuing their business as usual.
Two decades of resistance
DSEI has encountered over two decades of mass street resistance. As the US’s ‘War on Terror’ got underway – a smokescreen for neo-colonial foreign policies – thousands took to the streets. Shoal Collective interviewed anti-militarist organiser Sam Hayward in Red Pepper:
That year, millions of people were involved in the opposition to the invasion of Iraq,’ Sam says. ‘When the war began it wasn’t clear how to oppose it and many anti-militarist activists fell away, not knowing what to do. I started thinking about how imperialist wars couldn’t happen without the weapons being manufactured and sold by the arms companies — beneficiaries of aggressive imperialist wars.’
One tactic at DSEI 2003 was to stop the arms dealers from getting to the ExCeL Centre. Sam explains how this happened: ‘Activists climbed onto the roofs of DLR trains and locked themselves on, stopping the trains. As a result, the arms dealers were brought in on buses. Protesters stopped the buses, laying down in front of them. Delegates started arriving by taxi and on foot, so people blocked the roads. There were thousands of activists involved. It was successful in delaying the arms dealers getting there, but ultimately the arms fair still took place’.
In 2011, anti-militarists rowed kayaks into the path of a battleship, which was on the way to be used as a reception area at the DSEI arms fair. One of them told Red Pepper:
Four of us launched inflatable kayaks from a hidden spot in the Thames, so we were on our way before the river police spotted us. The ship was equivalent to about three storeys tall.
“blocking the DSEI arms fair is an obligation”
In 2019, I joined the resistance against DSEI along with several other writers from The Canary. One of them was Canary journalist Eliza Egret, who wrote at the time:
For me, blocking the DSEI arms fair is an obligation. My activism and writing has taken me to Palestine, Kurdistan and Syria. I have seen first-hand the devastation caused by this sickening arms industry. I have interviewed families whose children have been murdered with weapons made in Europe. I have met a 10-year-old boy who miraculously survived after an Israeli sniper shot a bullet through his brain. I have had tear gas and sound grenades fired at me in Palestine, and I have been surrounded by armoured vehicles in Kurdistan. I have stood on rubble that was once family homes, and I have seen human blood splattered on the walls of buildings.
So it is my duty to take action against this disgusting weapons exhibition. As I write this, arms deals are being made, mostly by privileged men who have never had to experience the terror of living in a war zone.
Two of us from The Canary also launched kayaks on to the water and disrupted a military boat display by BAE Systems at the fair.
Join us at DSEI 2021
In 2021, campaign group Stop the Arms Fair is calling for people to take action to disrupt the setting up of the arms fair. The set-up of DSEI is a major operation, as the exhibition itself takes place on 100,000 square metres of land at the ExCeL Centre in London’s Docklands. It set out some of the actions that have happened in previous years:
As lorries and trucks transporting armoured vehicles, missiles, sniper rifles, tear gas and bullets attempted to get on site, people from around the world were there to put their bodies in the way.
Dabke-dancing, aerobics, an academic conference, a gig on a flatbed truck, abseilers dangling from a bridge, theatre, military veterans undertaking unofficial vehicle checks for banned weapons, Kurdish dancers, rebel clowns, religious gatherings, hip-hop artists, radical picnics, a critical mass of cyclists, Daleks, political choirs, and lots of people in arm-locks all blocked the entrances to the DSEI arms fair repeatedly over the course of a whole week.
Thousands more amplified the protests by signing petitions, lobbying decision-makers, speaking out online and in their own communities, and helping in diverse ways to make the protests possible.
In September, arms dealers, many of whom will have profited from Afghanistan, will be coming together to make more deals that will cause more war and suffering. It’s important to be there to resist the fair, and to show solidarity with those who are under attack by state militaries armed with weapons bought at DSEI.
Featured image via The Canary