Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Arms Trading: Not for the Naive

On Twitter, I follow a varied selection of political types from all camps and over the last few days those that I would class as Left Wing and/or Labour types have been quite vocal about their disgust at David Cameron embarking on a tour of the Middle East with a group of arms traders in tow. They have been asking if it is not a little distasteful and a touch ironic to be promoting democracy in one hand whilst dealing arms in the other. They couldn't be any more naive if they tried. Democracy has almost always been achieved, maintained and then protected by the threat of and sometimes the application of force.

It's common for people to write, in pieces such as these, that it would be great to live in a world without the need for weapons. I'm going to say no such thing because it is utterly moronic. There has never been a time in history when weapons haven't existed. Nearly all lifeforms are born with weapons of sorts or at the very least defence from the weapons of others. To try and imagine life without weapons is to try and imagine and end to all life so let's not even give it thought.

Those who can accept the above can then progress to a conversation about the real issues of the arms trade: what do we sell, who do we sell it to, how much do we sell and so on. What is not relevant is whether an arms trade should exist. It does and always will do. A country may decide to abandon all arms but it's survival will always depend on the arms of others and so follows that those seeking to secure their own survival will need to be armed.

As a nation, we face a choice of either manufacturing our own weapons or buying them from other sources. In order to maintain a military edge we prefer to design and make our own. Unfortunately the size of our armed services means that we alone do not purchase enough weapons to make design and manufacture financially viable. We  overcome this by selling to other nations that don't have the capability and expertise to build their own weapons.

We can, and do, as a country apply strict criteria of sale when trading in arms. The criteria exist to prevent weapons being sold to unstable regimes or those whose values are in direct conflict with ours. It is this criteria that can be criticised and held up as immoral or fundamentally flawed, but not the principle of trading arms in itself.

At some point, there may well have to be foreign military intervention in Libya in order to prevent Gaddafi or his son wreaking revenge on those who dissented. If that happens the troops involved will be able to undertake that task partly thanks to the arms trade. Who would have a problem with that?

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