The very first thing to remember about the arms trade is that they make things for the purpose of killing, maiming and incapacitating other human beings. All the people that design, manufacture or assemble these weapons have in some way contributed to the death of the person on the opposite side of that weapon.
Arms companies are treated as being above the law, one of the best recent examples of this was the government terminating the Serious Fraud Office inquiry in December 2006 that was looking into corruption allegations against BAE Systems’ dealings in Saudi Arabia, by shutting down the SFO inquiry the government is in breach of the OECD agreements on tackling corruption that the UK is a signatory of. The government has set forward the classic three arguments for the arms trade. Those three arguments are; National security and defence needs, the economy and “If we didn’t do it somebody else would”.
National security was quoted as a major reason for ending the BAE system’s- Saudi Arabia SFO inquiry, the government contended that Saudi Arabia was a valuable ally in the “War on Terror” and threatened to stop sharing intelligence should the SFO inquiry be allowed to continue. However the Saudi Intelligence service is at best weak and at worst a bunch of torturers who the UK intelligence services should not cooperate with on principle. The more general case for the national security or “Defence” argument is that the world is a violent place and we need weapons in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Unfortunately “Our boys” do not receive adequate equipment, an MoD internal survey found that “nearly half our soldiers in Iraq had no confidence in their fighting kit”2 and there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence on UK military equipment to support this. The MoD is pressured into buying equipment from UK firms in order to persuade foreign buyers to buy the same equipment; this means that the UK taxpayer is paying more than they should for equipment that is not ideal costing the lives of soldiers and civilians in conflicts. Arms exports are put ahead of UK interests when it comes to the arms industry. BAE systems (strictly speaking a global company, not British except when it suits them) recently agreed to a new contract known as Salam (roughly translates as peace, BAE lack a sense of irony) with Saudi Arabia selling Eurofighter jets, the first 24 of these jets were intended to go to the RAF but instead are being shipped to Saudi Arabia3.
The argument of the economy and jobs is one favoured particularly by MPs saying that stopping the arms trade would cause terrible unemployment and damage the national economy, however some statistics need to be considered. Arms exports are subsidised by the government by around £900 million per year. According to the MoD 65,000 jobs are sustained by military exports (approximate 0.2% of the UK workforce), with a bit of simple maths this tells us that each arms export job is subsidised by the UK taxpayer to the tune of £13,000 every year. The MoD estimated that halving the number of military exports over a two year period would lead to a loss of almost 49,000 jobs however within five years 67,400 jobs would be created in non-military sectors and in fact between 1995 and 2002 the number of jobs estimated to be reliant on military exports fell from 145,000 to 65,000 with no major effect on the economy1. The fact is that the majority of employees working in the arms industry are highly skilled and could be of incredible value in a worthwhile industry instead of one dedicated to destruction.
“If we didn’t do it somebody else would” is often used by arms dealers as a justification for their activities whether legal or illegal, however this argument is fundamentally flawed, you could not use in any other context and expect anybody to agree with you. Were anybody to argue in court that they had to commit a crime because if they did not do it then somebody else would then they would be reprimanded for wasting the court’s time, just because somebody else is willing to do something morally wrong, it does make it right for you to do it.
Only through understanding the reasons that are put across by the arms industry can the debate be won and these companies whose purpose is to cause destruction can be defeated.
By Barnaby Pace
1 Jobs and Subsidies, Campaign Against Arms Trade, http://www.caat.org.uk/issues/jobs-subsidies.php, Accessed 25/10/07
2 House of Commons Debate, Colin Breed, South East Cornwall, Liberal Democrat, 20/01/2005 Column 999, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmhansrd/vo050120/debtext/50120-18.htm#50120-18_spnew4, Accessed 25/10/07
3 “BAE is poised for £5bn Saudi Eurofighter contract”, David Robertson, The Times, 14/6/2006, http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/engineering/article608183.ece, Accessed 25/10/07