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.