The arms trade

The supply and transfer of weapons is widely felt to be reprehensible, but arguments to this effect are often weak. It is said that scarce resources are wasted on weapons, but this is to forget that the arms trade is driven by demand rather than supply. It is insecure States and weak rebels who seek to buy weapons and it is not obvious how to put a price on the 'security' that they seek. From a just war perspective, however, certain crisp observations suggest themselves. First, the tradition's concern for legitimacy works against covert actions such as State-sponsored terrorism and secret arms deals. If the State's actions are honourable, why should they be secret? There is rarely a good answer. Second, whoever puts a lethal weapon into the hand of another, especially the hand of one with such a dubious record as that of many a state or rebel movement, should surely beware of becoming an accessory to murder. Third, there are simple guidelines which could easily impose tight and rational restrictions on any one state's arm supply policy. One could, for example, supply arms only when these are authorized by the opposition as well as the government of the purchasing country. One could supply arms only where one is also prepared to offer security guarantees, thus making explicit one's moral commitment. In such ways, State conduct could be shifted towards conforming with the letter and spirit of the classic just war doctrine.

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