The Government’s active role in promoting the arms trade appears so out of step with normal values that its justifications need to be considered. Its main arguments fit into three categories: arms exports are important for national security; they are vital to the UK economy and jobs; and they are stringently regulated. All are false.
The official argument
National security is the Government’s main official argument. It focuses on the assumption that arms exports can help guarantee the supply of arms for the UK armed forces. However, the ‘national security’ argument is also applied much less specifically, in the hope of tapping into deep-rooted perceptions of defence and sovereignty.
The specific response to the argument is that there is no “security of supply” to guarantee. Arms production takes place across the globe and all significant Ministry of Defence purchases include hundreds or thousands of imported components and sub-systems. The arms companies that are supposed to provide the guarantee of supply are international businesses. It is entirely unrealistic to expect these companies and their international shareholders to prioritise any one country’s armed forces over those of another on anything other than financial grounds.
However, the most important argument around national security is more fundamental: the extent to which national security is undermined by being viewed through an almost exclusively military lens. This perspective includes both the predilection for arms exports and the presumption of military solutions to problems. It marginalises major security threats such as climate change, energy insecurity and inequality that are acknowledged by Government but absent in terms of meaningful policies and funding.
A much broader security policy is required, centred on the security and well-being of the population rather than on military and arms company interests.
- For example, Eurofighter contains more than 2,000 components supplied by US companies alone (Defense News, 4 September 2008)
- For example, UK government-funded R&D for renewables was £66 million in 2008 (Scientists for Global Responsibility, “Arms conversion for a low carbon economy”, SGR Newsletter, Winter 2010), compared to over £2 billion for arms.