UNIVERSITY: “THIS IS NOT AN ARMS FAIR. THIS IS PROJECT MANAGEMENT OF LARGE PROCUREMENT PROJECTS AND SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT… FOR THE DEFENCE INDUSTRY”

BAE ' Ron Cogswell'Editors note: ‘Since originally publishing this article, WesternEye have received a statement from BiP Solutions Ltd. We have been assured that: “The exhibitors at DPRTE will NOT have any form of munitions, weaponry, artillery or hazardous military equipment on site.” It is still unclear exactly which products will be on show at the DPRTE event, as so far, the exhibitors with whom we have attempted contact, have declined to reply.”

A controversial conference taking place at UWE on the 20th November is being described by activists as an ‘arms’ conference. Defence and other private contractors will be exhibiting their services for commercial and military buyers at the event.

At the time of publication, the Western Eye is currently unable to confirm which products are being exhibited. The university wishes to clarify that while this is a defence conference, it is not an arms fair. Further information regarding the exhibitors themselves can be found at the promoters’ website www.dprte.co.uk. Defence Procurement Research Technology Exportability are selling tables to exhibitors for up £6000 a go.

Nuclear propulsion technology, fighter jets, machine guns, rockets, hand grenades and electromagnetic pulse bombs are all military weapons manufactured by BAE Systems, who are one of the organisations exhibiting at the event. One of their products is the officially named “Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System”, a 2.75 inch rocket, surprisingly being advertised as “low cost” and requiring “minimal training.”

Local activists associated with Bristol Against the Arms Trade, along with a group of UWE students who currently request anonymity, are gathering support for a demonstration. The protest will be held near the Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC). In the past, student activists have used dramatic tactics to publicise their opposition. Last month an arms based careers event with representation from BAE amongst other companies was held at Bristol University, where a group of activists faked screaming and dying at the entrance to the exhibition.

The UK government plans to spend £33 billion on military defence in 2014. It is a key sector of the UK economy, an argument often levelled at critics. The defence industry maintains close relationships with research institutions, who help research and develop such technology. Countries guilty of human rights abuses continue to be supplied with arms by Britain. Recent parliamentary committee research revealed that Britain exports £12.3 billion of arms to 25 states which have been identified by the Foreign Office for potential human rights breaches.

At defence conferences held at the ExCel Centre in London, attendees have included “high calibre representatives from the Middle East, India, South America, South and Far East Asia, Australasia, United States and Europe”. Specific invitees to the London conference included delegates from Saudi Arabia, who according to Amnesty International, have “failed on every count to live up to its promises to address the dire human rights situation.”

Student opposition focuses on whether the conference should be located on a university campus. Students feel that their university should represent them. According to one source who wishes to remain anonymous “A university is an educational establishment. Weapons have no place here, and I believe that my university should be obliged to act in a way which is ethically sound. The promotion of advanced technological tools of warfare upon campus is contrary to this.” Despite this, awareness of the event is particularly low, with many students totally unaware of the conference, or the fact that the same conference took place here last year.

Arms dealers are quick to point out that the industry exists whether people like it or not, it cannot be reversed. The logic remains that if the UK stopped producing arms; another country would simply take its place and the ‘losers’ would be all of us affected by the shortfall in the UK economy. Arms dealers also claim that weapons can provide security to citizens under threat in various regions of the world.

University spokesman, Keith Hicks, is keen to assert that UWE does not support arms fairs. He commented, “It is our policy not to support arms fairs. This is not an arms fair. This is a conference that promotes project management of large procurement projects and supply chain management. The University is also not a sponsor of the conference or involved besides the rental of the space. We would not expect protest at this type of conference and clearly we would hope any protest would be responsible.”

So, unethical arms dealing or commercially beneficial conference? We will leave the semantics up to you; draw your own conclusions and let us know what you think.