Defence Export Services Organisation

The Defence Export Service Organisation (DESO) is a UK government department within the Ministry of Defence which promotes arms exports by arms companies based in Britain.

The DESO has traditionally been headed by executives of defence companies who are officially seconded from their employer and continue to receive their salary.[1] A third of the DESO's 500 staff are involved in support of the Al Yamamah contracts with Saudi Arabia.[1] DESO is involved in the Defence Systems & Equipment International exhibition.

Gordon Brown announced on 26 July 2007 that DESO would be transferred to UK Trade & Investment from April 2008, and will be called the UKTI Defence and Security Group.[2][3] Nevertheless, the Al Yamamah contracts will stay within the remit of the Ministry of Defence



The organisation was founded in 1966 by Denis Healey, the Secretary of State for Defence at the time. In January of that year he informed Parliament that "while the Government attach[es] the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable commercial market." [4] From being called the Defence Sales Organisation, in 1985 the organisation was re-named the Defence Export Services Organisation.


DESO had an overall operating budget for 2006/7 of £51.438 million, largely covered by income received from customer governments, leaving a residue of just under £16 million provided by the British Government. For 2006/2007 it identified its priority markets as Greece, India, Japan, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the USA.[5]

On 1 February 2007 it had 466 staff on its books. Nearly 400 are based in London with another 100 located in offices in 17 countries worldwide, including 65 based in Saudi Arabia. The DESO also works with military attachés based in around 80 UK embassies when necessary.

Recent heads of DESO

  • Tony Pawson, 2007-present; previously the Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence and a former Director General of DESO[6]
  • Alan Garwood, 2002 to 2007; seconded from MBDA (part-owned by BAE Systems, the UK's dominant arms producer)
  • Tony Edwards, 1998 to 2002; seconded from TI Group
  • Charles Masefield, 1994 to 1998; seconded from Avro and Airbus (part-owned by British Aerospace); returned to GEC and BAE Systems
  • Alan Thomas, 1989 to 1994; seconded from Raytheon
  • Colin Chandler, 1985 to 1989; seconded from British Aerospace; returned to Siemens Plessey, the TI Group, Racal and Vickers

Strategic Market Analysis

Each year, DESO carries out a 'Strategic Market Analysis' which provides world and regional market overviews as well as more detailed analysis of key country markets. According to its website, "Successive Customer Satisfaction Surveys of the UK defence industry revealed that over 75% of [arms export orders] would not have been achieved without the assistance of DESO". [7]

Involvement in Arms fairs

Since 1998, DESO has represented the Ministry of Defence in support of the UK Defence Industry at an average of 12 overseas arms fairs a year. In addition to its international marketing campaign DESO helps organise the UK's two main arms fairs, Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), and Farnborough Airshow, which take place in alternate years. DESO is responsible for inviting the international military delegations to both of these events.

Opposition to DESO

The Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of England and Wales as well as around 30 NGOs have signed a statement calling for DESO's closure. They allege that not enough concern is given to the impact of arms sales on human rights, development or conflict. For instance, in 2004, UK arms export licenses were granted to 13 of the 20 'major countries of concern' identified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its 2005 Human Rights Annual Report. (See Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Annual Report 2005.)

In 2007, three campaigning groups - CAAT, the SPEAK Network and Fellowship of Reconciliation - organised campaigns for DESO to be shut down. On July 26th, 2007, Gordon Brown announced that DESO would be closed.[2][3]


  1. ^ a b "The MoD's Lobbying Arm". Intelligence Online (Indigo Publications). 2006-09-22. 
  2. ^ a b Evans, Rob (2007-07-26). "Export department closure leaves defence firms out in the cold". The Guardian (London).,,2135666,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  3. ^ a b Harding, Thomas (2007-07-26). "Fury as DESO is scrapped". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  4. ^ CAAT Publications - Call the Shots: DESO
  5. ^ "DESO Facts". Defence Export Services Organisation. Retrieved 2007-11-16. 
  6. ^ "Head of Defence Export Services". Defence Export Services Organisation. Retrieved 2007-11-16. 
  7. ^ House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 12 Feb 2004 (pt 22)

External links

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