World's biggest weapons fair sees surge in visitors amid global turmoil

By Jan van der Made - RFI

The world's largest arms exhibition, held in Paris this week, attracted bumper crowds as a result of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and increased tension between the US, Russia and China. Eurosatory 2024 was also not without controversy.

Thousands of weapons industry executives, arms dealers, military delegations and plain aficionados congregated throughout the week in the cavernous halls of the Villepinte exhibition centre close to Charles de Gaulle airport.

More than 2,000 companies set up stands displaying their – mostly deadly – hardware, ranging from hand held Glock pistols to fully automatic machine guns, AI-guided RPG's and rocket launchers.

Companies providing support for action in warzones displayed bullet-proof vests, Etendard tactical all-terrain motorbikes and gas masks for dogs. 

Outside, an impressive display of heavy armour included France's trademark Caesar howitzer, German Leopard tanks and a forest of antiballistic Aster and Mistral missiles.

The French Defence Ministry was present with a pavilion as were their colleagues from the US Army.

China's largest armament group, Norinco, showed scale models of mobile rocket launchers against a backdrop of an enormous LCD-screen featuring exploding rockets in a blue sky. 

The "changing global security situation" meant there was much more interest in this year's show, a spokesperson for the German tank maker Rheinmetal told RFI.

Meanwhile Marc Darmon, President of French armaments consortium GICAT, told a press conference that crises and conflicts overlap rather than replace each other.

According to Eurosatory statistics, global military spending continues to rise, with an estimated 9 percent increase between 2022 and 2023 to reach $2.2 billion.

France, now the world's second largest arms exporter according to Swedish think tank Sipri, relies on its defence industry, Darmon added.

At the 2022 Eurosatory, which took place just months after Russia invaded Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron advocated for a "stronger European defence industry" to avoid  dependence on other powers in a geopolitical world where "what we once thought unthinkable has happened".

European countries have participated in this growth, witnessed by the launch of initiatives in response to the war in Ukraine.

The EU-run ASAP aims at boosting defence production, other programs are being created to smoothen intra-EU procurement of weaponry or strengthen the EU defence industry as a whole.

France's efforts starting to pay off: after transferring some 30 of its Ceasar howitzers to Ukraine, KNDS France confirmed the sale of dozens more to Estonia and Croatia. 

A spokesperson for the French Defence Ministry, said the Ukrainian army "was very pleased with the Ceasar", adding that France indicated it would provide training for the operation of the guns. 

Meanwhile, French company Thales signed contracts on electronic warfare, tactical communication and air defence with the Ukraine army. 

A second deal included training of personnel to operate the equipment and its maintenance.

Ukrainian defence group Etrobots FRDM also signed contracts aimed at the development and construction of drones able to transport munition.


The show was not without controversy. Israel was initially banned from attending, with France cancelling the participation of some 70 Israeli arms industry companies after the country's air force bombed a refugee camp in Rafah in May. 

At the request of three French anti-war NGOs and the Palestinian groupAl-Haq, French authorities instructed COGES, the group organising Eurosatory 2024, to "not welcome" the Israeli arms companies.

Then on 14 June, a court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny issued an interim injunction that formally banned the Israeli companies.

The NGO Stop Fuelling War said Israeli representatives, whose badges had been deactivated, had tried to use other countries to display their wares.

But on 18 June, while Eurosatory was in progress, the Paris Court of Appeal overturned the injunction, allowing Israel to come after all.

This triggered an angry reaction by opponents who questioned France's respect for its international commitments.

But Israeli companies did not rush to the show after all. A spokesperson for Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, an Israeli arms producer, was quoted by the Times of Israel saying the court appeal "changed nothing for the company – it will not set up a booth or send representatives".

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024