Successes of Abu Dhabi's Idex are a boost for global security ties

Arms fairs provide a unique opportunity for friendly nations to help improve global security

The undisputed success of the Idex 2021 arms fair in Abu Dhabi should help to silence campaigners who maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the international arms trade.

Groups such as the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) are constantly criticising governments for hosting arms fairs around the world, while at the same time mounting a continuous campaign to halt arms sales.

For example, during protests organised by CAAT against the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair outside the Excel centre in east London in 2019, more than 100 demonstrators were arrested as they sought to prevent the largest event of its kind in Europe from being held.

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The fundamental problem with many anti-arms campaigners is that they completely misunderstand the underlying principle that governs most arms sale

But their protests were in vain, and the conference, which attracted an estimated 35,000 delegates and exhibitors, was deemed to be a great success.

For, as this month’s equally high profile event in Abu Dhabi has demonstrated, arms fairs are about a great deal more than securing contracts for new arms purchases.

They provide a unique networking opportunity, where representatives from friendly nations can come together and discuss issues of mutual interest, thereby helping to improve global security, rather than undermining it as some CAAT campaigners often claim is the case.

For the fundamental problem with many anti-arms campaigners is that they completely misunderstand the underlying principle that governs most arms sales, which is to help countries to better protect their interests and defend themselves against potential aggressors.

Certainly, the great advantage of an event like Idex 2021, which has developed into the region’s biggest-spending defence conference, is that it enables delegates and officials to acquaint themselves with the very latest developments in defence technology.

Thus, at this month’s event a wide variety of the latest defence equipment was on show, including unmanned and autonomous weapons that can be operated from boats to sophisticated surveillance systems.

There were also more conventional items of weaponry on display, such as the latest incarnation of the iconic Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifle, the AK-19, which was making its global debut at Idex, with crowds of people gathering around the stand to view a weapon that looks uncannily similar to the original AK-47 first produced in the 1940s.

Apart from highlighting the rapidly changing nature of defence technology, Idex also reflected profound changes that are taking place in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

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Idex also reflected profound changes that are taking place in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East

The fact, for example, that Israeli companies were represented for the first time at the event illustrated that, at a time of heightened tensions in the region, it was still possible to replace decades of hostility with peaceful collaboration.

Certainly, with Iran continuing to make threatening noises about its nuclear ambitions, there is a pressing need for countries throughout the globe to work more closely together to safeguard their mutual security interests.

It is for this reason that events like Idex, which provide the environment in which important new relationships can be forged, deserve to be recognised for the positive contribution they make to enhancing global security, instead of being subjected to the ill-founded criticism of the anti-arms campaign lobby.

Con Coughlin

Con Coughlin

Con Coughlin is a defence and foreign affairs columnist for The National