Moral Claim – Immoral Practice: Britain and the Arms Trade

Moral Claim-Immoral Practice: Britain and the Arms Trade

Kevin. P Clements

NCPACS, The University of Otago.

Those of us living  in the Commonwealth like to sustain the illusion that our foreign and defence policies are moral and principled. We like to feel that we, of British descent, are motivated  by positive social and political values as well as naked political interests.  There has been a long tradition of this sentiment dating back to colonial times. Britain’s colonial ventures were always justified in terms of “La mission civilisatrice”. We colonised in order to civilise. We colonised   to  bring solid British values and virtues to all the  ” dark” and  uncivilised  parts of the world. This enterprise has always seemed hollow-especially to those  subject to  this civilisation. But the civilising motive persists and states like to claim the moral high ground.  In the last few weeks, the British Prime Minister has been urging ceasefires in the Middle East and a more radical embargo on Russia.  

The reality is that the United Kingdom, is up to its ears in the murky world of the global arms trade.  This engagement  means that it has supplied and continues to supply the equipment and weapons fuelling  much of the violence that is taking place in the world. It sounds a bit rich, therefore, to call  for a ceasefire, or  to express moral displeasure at the use of rocket launchers , when British firms  with the support of the British Ministry of defence  have  supplied these weapons in the first place. The UK has  given more than 200 licences to sell British weapons to  Russia  including missile-launching equipment. These remain in place and are continuing to be shipped.

The Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.

British MPs  have demanded tighter controls on weapons sales to authoritarian regimes, saying that more than 3,000 export licences for arms worth £12bn were approved for 28 countries many of these with absolutely appalling  human rights records. They include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sri Lanka.

The British government  has approved arms exports to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories with objects including  “anti-riot/ballistic shields”, components for combat vehicles, small arms, sniper rifles, and military communications equipment.

While the official line is that

“We will not a grant a licence where there is a clear risk the equipment might be used for internal repression.” The sad facts are that this military hardware is  being used for repression and it is being used in Gaza and the Ukraine right now. Its also being used in Sri Lanka to  reinforce an increasingly unpopular repressive regime and in many other countries  experiencing civil wars.

As long as members of the United Nations’ Permanent 5 willingly support  arms exports ( and they are all deeply complicit in this dirty trade) they lose their moral right to  act as custodians of the peace. When people ask why the United Nations is not more effective in managing to secure ceasefires, disengage  warring parties, initiate peace negotiations  maybe its because the  permanent members of the Security Council  have a vested interest in maintaining  instability, insecurity and even war since this is good for their arms  and  military manufacturers.

The people of the world, the citizens of the world need to start raising their voice on this nasty dirty trade.  We need to make the arms trade as illegitimate as  the sex trade,  the drug trade,  and the trafficking of peoples. It is time to name it for what it is ,a nasty, violence and death  creating , trade justifed in  the name of self defence and civilisation. It does neither of these things. This trade results in schools being bombed, aircrafts being shot out of the sky. Its totally not Ok . The international arms trade   is immoral and undermines the moral claims of otherwise decent states and nations . They are  exporting violence and barbarism rather than  civilisation. The international arms trade subverts all moral claims.


About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
This entry was posted in Arms Trade, Russia, The Middle East, The P 5, The UNited States, Ukraine, United Nations Security Council. Bookmark the permalink.

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