The glittering opulence and sheer pageantry of the Middle East's largest arms bazaar held recently in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, was like an alchemist's magic, transforming the dross display of the death-bestowing technologies into a grand spectacle where the world's weapons dealers were treated to live-fire demonstrations using live ammunition. Such weapons shows also offer elixirs of life from the fiery crucible of linguistic magic, by taking the mass murder of "war" and turning it into "peace."
The scene was IDEX, the "International Defence Exhibition," and this spring it was the largest ever. With exhibits by over 1,100 war industries from 59 countries, and attracting over 80,000 participants, IDEX 2013 was the biggest arms bazaar ever held in the Middle East.
IDEX is a golden opportunity for Canadian war industries eager to convert their military technologies into cash. Far from the maddening crowd, this weapons show in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the perfect place to schmooze with high-ranking decision-makers and arms-procurement officials, not only from the Persian Gulf monarchies, but from all the U.S. client states that dominate this oil-rich region.
In the words of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) to its 950 corporate members: "If you want to make an impact in a region where defence and security spending continues to be robust, IDEX is the place to be!" CADSI, the government-funded lobby group and cheerleader for Canadian war industries, promoted IDEX by saying: "The defence spending forecast across the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region for the 10 years 2010-2020 is US$1,233 billion.... With defence budgets declining in many countries, now is the time to focus your sales effort to this region."
IDEX is also a great place to rub shoulders with the most profitable military companies on the planet, as they line up at the trough to devour their share of the globe's resources. Of the world's 35 top-ranking war industries, 28 of them exhibited their deadly wares at this year's IDEX.
Eager to support this business, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which underwrites all large Canadian military export contracts, was represented at IDEX by its Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, and its Director of Planning and Business Intelligence.
Canada's ambassador to the UAE, Arif Lalani, gushed effusively over IDEX saying: "We're excited to see such a large number of Canadian exhibitors. These companies represent the best Canadian capabilities and technologies in the defence and security sector."
But IDEX isn't only about flaunting the latest tools of war and repression. It's also a marketplace for the limited scope of ideas proffered by politicians serving the world's military-industrial power-brokers. This year's IDEX, for example, boasted "defence" ministers from 77 countries. Canada was represented by Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, who met top-ranking UAE police chiefs at IDEX, as well as the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and its Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Toews was there, he said, to further the "global fight against terrorism."
As a close ally in the "war on terror," the UAE was once home to "Camp Mirage," a Canadian military base that operated rent-free for 10 years. Since 2009, the UAE has hosted a French military base with the Orwellian moniker "Camp de la Paix." Yet another UAE contribution to the global "war for peace" is a training camp for foreign mercenaries run by Blackwater (which has rebranded itself Xe Services to avoid prosecution for slaughtering Iraqi civilians).
This secretive UAE base uses American and European instructors to train fighters from Colombia, Central America, and elsewhere. Documents quoted by the New York Times in 2011 revealed that its graduates are trained for "special operations missions to put down internal revolts, like those sweeping the Arab world." In particular, recruits are trained in "urban combat," "humanitarian missions," and "crowd-control operations" in which the crowd "is not armed with firearms, but does pose a risk using improvised weapons."
Upon returning from IDEX, Towes blandly extolled the UAE's "important role in promoting regional peace and stability. I was pleased to have had discussions on pressing international security issues, such as the ongoing conflict in Syria."
Other governments are more wary of the UAE's regional role. Last summer, Switzerland suspended all arms exports to the UAE after a Swiss newspaper showed photos of Syrian terrorists using Swiss hand grenades sold to the UAE.
Would Canada freeze any of its arms exports that ended up in rebel hands? Not a chance.
Among the Canadian companies exhibiting at IDEX 2013 was Aeryon Labs of Waterloo, Ontario. Aeryon gained notoriety in 2011 by selling its "Scout" Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Libyan rebels during NATO's "humanitarian" war for regime change. The company's website still brags that its UAVs were "in use by the Libyan rebels to gather intelligence on enemy positions and to coordinate their resistance efforts."
Aeryon featured its "Scout" UAV at IDEX 2013. The IDEX website, describing Aeryon as a "trusted partner of military customers" and "re-sellers," says "Scout" is "mission proven, including combat action... providing immediate aerial intelligence to both ground forces and remote command."
Another Canadian military company selling intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies at IDEX was Newfoundland and Labrador's Provincial Aerospace, which signed a $50 million contract there to supply satellite communication systems to the UAE.
Canada's largest military contracts to the Middle East have historically been for armoured vehicles. Over the years, the repressive Saudi monarchy has purchased about $2 billion worth of military vehicles from General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) of London, Ontario. Canadian armoured vehicles and accessories have also been sold to Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Turkey, and the UAE. GDLS was at IDEX again this year, living up to its reputation as "a world leader in the design, manufacture, and support of wheeled Light Armoured Vehicles [LAVs]."
That's how GDLS is described in a Canadian government document called Canada First, which was released just days before IDEX 2013. This report, which promotes a new strategy for expanding Canada's role as a global military producer and exporter, presents GDLS as one of this country's greatest war-industry "success stories," for LAV exports are worth $17 billion. The report is particularly proud that GDLS sold 4,500 LAVs, for $9.5 billion, to the U.S. army between 2001 and 2011. These Canadian vehicles have been the workhorses of U.S. war-fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Another Canadian armoured-vehicle manufacturer at IDEX was Terradyne, which exhibited three versions of its "Gurkha" vehicle for military, SWAT, and tactical urban police operations. Terradyne is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Magna International, which is known for its Canadian billionaire owner, Frank Stronach. His daughter Belinda became a Conservative MP, but crossed the floor to the Liberals before returning to the lucrative family business.
A third Canadian armoured vehicle maker at IDEX was Streit Group. Headquartered in the UAE, Streit showcased 15 varieties of assault, fighting, and command vehicles to service the Middle East's military, police, SWAT-force, and "private security" needs. A Streit puff piece, reprinted on the Ottawa Citizen's web-site by its "defence" reporter, concludes: "There are currently more than 10,000 Streit Group vehicles operating internationally, with a record of zero occupant casualties." While this may be true, it ignores the casualties caused by the vehicles' occupants.
NEBO is another Canadian-owned company based in the UAE to better serve Middle-East military and police customers. The IDEX website lists an extensive array of NEBO products, including equipment useful for riot police like body armour, headgear, and gas masks.
One of the world's largest war industries, Montreal-based CAE, was at IDEX offering its infamous flight simulators for training fighter and bomber pilots. CAE simulators are also used to rehearse bombing sorties, because "practice makes perfect." And CAE also showcased its ground-combat training systems for tanks, fighting vehicles, and multiple-launch artillery/rocket systems.
Tundra Security is another proud Canadian company focused on military training. It was at IDEX promoting courses in everything from protecting VIPs to using the "combat shotgun as a less lethal, lethal, and ballistic breaching weapon." Other classes include "Movement in Urban Areas," which teaches "the fundamentals of Shoot, Move, and Communicate." If learning to smash your way through doors, windows, or gates is what you want, Tundra has a course in "Mechanical Breaching." Tundra was also offering to train Middle-East clients how to fire semi-automatic pistols, carbines, and sniper rifles.
Other Canadian companies at IDEX promoted everything from robotic land vehicles with weapons mounts (Pedsco) to optical scopes for machine guns (Elcan) and night-vision systems for aerial drones and for targeting sniper weapons (Obzerv).
The largest display of Canadian military might was the HMCS "Toronto." This multi-billion-dollar frigate docked in the UAE for NAVDEX, an international Navy exhibition running alongside IDEX. The "Toronto" first came to the Persian Gulf in 1998 to help enforce the pitiless US/UN blockade of Iraq which led to the deaths of over 1.5 million Iraqi civilians, of which 600,000 were children under the age of five. The "Toronto" is now back in the Gulf with a U.S.-led armada called Coalition Task Force-150 (CTF-150), which has been fighting the "war on terror" since 2002. In 2003, when CTF-150 was led by Canadian Navy Commodore Roger Girouard, it escorted U.S. warships to the Kuwaiti coast where they unleashed devastating air strikes during the opening "shock-and-awe" salvoes of the Iraq War. For six months in 2004, the "Toronto" operated with a U.S. Carrier Strike Group, which launched more than 1,500 warplane sorties, dropping 82 tons of ordnance on Iraq.
But, even after ten years, most Canadians probably still believe the hype that their country refused to join the U.S. war on Iraq. And, thanks to our corporate media, most don't have a clue about the dozens of major international war-industry bazaars bristling with Canadian products.
Besides organizing a Canadian pavilion to showcase member-company products at IDEX, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries also puts together pavilions at three of the world's largest arms shows: LAAD in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (April 9-12), DSEi in London, U.K. (September 10-13), and AUSA in Washington, U.S. (October 21-23).
CADSI also has its very own annual arms show in Ottawa, called CANSEC, which had about 270 exhibitors in 2012. With much fanfare and government participation, this weapons bazaar, Canada's largest, will take place this year on May 29-30.
In the name of peace, Canadian governments -- Conservative and Liberal alike -- have facilitated the flow of military hardware to repressive regimes around the world. And, thanks to decades of supporting U.S.-led wars, Canada has also helped empower business-friendly governments which routinely conduct systematic abuses of human rights, including torture and extrajudicial killings of pro-democracy and labour activists.
The ongoing export of military and police equipment from Canada and other supposedly "developed" countries is facilitated by massive arms shows like IDEX, which preach peace and the "responsibility to protect," while shamelessly aiding and abetting aggressive and autocratic regimes.
(Richard Sanders is coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, and editor of its magazine, Press for Conversion. For more information, go to: http://coat.ncf.ca)