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First day inside DSEi

Gaston | 12.09.2003 20:20 | DSEi 2003 | London | World

On the first day of DSEi-2003 I managed officially to go into - not as a delegte, of course. Below are just some general observations - some kind of picture from inside...

While I went from Excel DLR (Dockland Light Railway) Station, the loudspeakers shouted: "Please prepare your passes for inspection". All of the delegates coming couldn't avoid to see a crowd of protesters not far away, and not to hear their slogans. Some stopped to watch, but most part were just hurrying to pass that place. In the entrance arcade still was a lot of red paint, somewhere covered by blue material, - as I learned afterwards, it was spread here by London Catholic Workers. DSEi delegates tried to bypass it, but the general mood was quite uncomfortable.

But while within several steps you could see the guards, and the whole check-in control system – the mood of the most part of those coming in became better. And within several steps you could finally jump in the big-business atmosphere of the arms fair.

With almost 1000 companies presenting their "products" on 38000 m2, it was quite easy to get lost. They were special zones, designed for arms industries from several countries: they were Western-European (incl. UK and Switzerland), US, Australia, South Africa and Turkey. But lots of other countries' firms were also there, all together presenting the whole range of could be needed for modern warfare of any kind: from knives, anti-sand goggles, light/small weapons (both combat and training) – to Apache helicopter, APCs and Eurogighter jet. Outside – supposedly (I haven't seen'em myself) there were several warships. You could find here a lot of special technical stuff, which is ununderstandable for anyone, who knows nothing on electronic and this kind of stuff. Night-vision systems worked every minute to show their capabilities, producing some kind of post-modernistic picture of what's happening: while in front of your eyes you could see a lot of white, middle-aged, men in business suites, - on their screens a lot of black people in white suites appeared, in striking contrast. There were, obviously, also non-white delegates – mostly in military uniforms, from different parts of the world.

Some equipment presented could be of good use for civilian purposes – as water-cleaning equipment, the best communication systems etc. Also you could mention there a lot of companies which are known to general public from their civilian goods – not only SAAB, who stopped producing cars and now turned to all range – air, land and sea – "defence" production, and not only Renault, Mercedes etc., but also Caterpillar (do you like their shoes?), Marconi (phones?), etc., etc.

One of the most remarkable parts of the exhibition was dedicated to training systems, mostly – simulators, for any kind of combat – and even some of the civilian – situations. There were obviously marks of "war on terror" – some stands were making references to "conditions of combat", close to Afghanistan and Iraq. Generally, there were lots of equipment for "special units" – remarkably more than for average "regular army".

Big part of object on show were for use both military and police – gas canisters, e.g. One stand even had a big picture of Genova protesters – with "less-than-lethal" police rifle behind it. Depending on situation, it could be charged with a paint ball – to mark the suspect for arrest – or chemical agent, producing shock but not killing. Of course, this was not the only one "non-lethal" weapon on the exhibition.

As it was so big – I didn't have a time to go to that Israeli company's stand, where, as "Guardian" later reported, cluster bombs were on show. But even of what I've seen – I was impressed.

People didn't like to talk on protests on that day – but they were a bit nervous about them. As one company representative told me: "I can understand the protesters, but if you don't what to be under threat – you have to be strong, and have the best arms. That's why we're here". But another one said: "The war on terror has put new challenges for arms manufacturers. You have to target terrorists – who're hiding successfully between civilian population. So you have to be able to watch them, listen to them, follow them – without been visible yourself". So, he said, the companies are responding to that challenge now. D'U like it?

Most part of delegates looked quite OK – they were sure that police and guards (and every door to another level was guarded, leave alone the cops walking everywhere around) would protect them from any kind of "undesirable interference".

The scene which I liked the most – was a young girl from some coffee-fast-food-chain, who had smth like 10-min brake, sitting on the floor back to the wall, with cup o tea in one hand and a cigarette in another. There were all those arms-business-folks around, and she looked like from another world, far away from here.

When, at the end of the day, I came out, walked through what looked like a war zone (with fences all around, number of police cars and vans, etc.), spotted a group of local kids arguing with police, - in the train I met another coffee-seller from the same which was operating that day at Excel. She normally works for that chain, and knows nothing on DSEi. Generally, she was informed. "Probably, it'd be better to be on the protesters' side" – she said. – "But I'm at work. It's just better not to think on all that boring stuff. I'm too tired. I don't care".