Ethics and arms sales: can the gap be bridged?

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This strong tendency to overlook ethical considerations in view of strategic or commercial profit has led many a politician to their demise. During the Arab Spring, French Defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie was forced to resign after sending Tunisia equipment to help crush the rebellion. And yet, nothing has changed since. In 2015, despite war crimes being ascertained in Egypt during the Arab Spring, France continued to arm Egypt. Reuters reporter John Irish writes: “France has agreed to sell two Mistral helicopter carriers to Egypt for 950 million euros ($1.06 billion) after their sale to Russia was canceled in August, French officials said on Wednesday”. The sale seems perfectly justified, in geopolitical means. “Cairo has sought to boost its military power in the face of a two-year insurgency based across the Suez Canal in the Sinai peninsula and fears the conflict in neighbouring Libya could spill over”, he adds. However, there are no guarantees that the Egyptian government will not use these military assets on domestic soil. And France is far from being the only country involved in unpalatable trade.

The UK, another prominent arms dealer, has also been regularly criticized for its “business-over-ethics” approach to international arms sales and its consistent fuelling of wars in the Middle-East. In 2015, Deputy CEO Penny Lawrence wrote for the Guardian: “While generously giving aid on the one hand, the UK is fuelling this bitter conflict by selling arms and giving technical support to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition bombing campaign in Yemen in full knowledge of the risk of potential war crimes”. Governmental justifications, which don’t even make the effort of providing parliament with details, seem somewhat outweighed by the potential human consequences. Thus, it “justifies the continued fuelling of the crisis on the grounds it has assurances from the Saudi government that its bombing campaign is in accordance with international law.” London has consistently used the three classic arguments to justify its economic operations: operational necessity (also known as fiat), assistance to allies in accordance with military treaties and loose international law.

The United States is also under fire for dealing alongside its British partner, and fuelling same the Yemeni repression, despite strong popular opposition to the unfettered arms trade. Activist Nate Smith writes for Defense One: “Perhaps the most egregious example has been the well-publicized sales to Saudi Arabia, which has relied on American munitions to wage a military campaign in Yemen that has left thousands of civilians dead [...] A CNN report also suggested that some of those weapons have found their way to the hands of Al Qaeda and other militant groups.” Washington has also been accused of blindly providing weapons which are known to be destined to repression to Israel, and many Latin American countries.

Last but not least in this review, peace-loving Germany may not be as squeaky-clean as one thought. In 2006, German manufacturer RheinMetall has secured a sales contract to Turkey, for the supply of large-caliber weapons. The fear of Turkish intentions towards the Kurds was already shared by many governments within the international community, but RheinMetall pushed the sales through nonetheless. Recent news confirmed that these fears were founded, as Turkey seized the opportunity of its weakened Syrian neighbor to invade Kurdistan, after having fought alongside its NATO allies against ISIS in the same area. Deutsche Welle reported on Rheinmetall’s Leopard 2 tanks being used in Kurdistan: “Opposition politicians in Germany responded with outrage to photos of German-made Leopard tanks being used by the Turkish army in their Syrian offensive. The intervention, which entered its fourth day on Tuesday, is unpopular with the German public.” The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world to be without a sovereign territory - a development which Ankara has always fiercely opposed - and spread across parts of Turkey, Syria and Iran. Alas, the fact that Leopard 2 tanks, or other types of Rheinmetall equipment, are currently being used against the Kurds, makes little doubt.

In the past, the only pressure means which have succeeded in barring “rogue” arms sales have been direct and brutal popular opposition, especially before an election. When a candidate places a pledge to bar arms sales to tyrannies, once in office, it’s difficult and dangerous to scratch that promise. However, even that may not be enough, as arms manufacturers are known to transit through third countries, which are not under embargo, as a step before the final client, in order to hide the sale. Only constant, direct and strong opposition from national communities can curb the phenomenon - an opposition which often falters.

Ethical considerations ? You

Ethical considerations ? You know how ethics of the ones in power work for example you use an alternative for NN.
Still it will not help you much i think. Did you use for example a VPN when adding your ETHICAL writing ? Yes ? So where are the servers of the company selling you the VPN located ? And so on. In activist circles there is in some cases debate about using violence. Some Anarchists for example debate using violence. State power has a lot of hardware and other resources as you know to throw against any uprising non violent or violent.
Any way it is in my view a personal decision to be non violent. Personaly i am not tolerating violence from the police against me i want to be able to answere any violence from the police in a similar way. So I stay away from activism wich expects me to be beaten up by the police because i do not have a fitting answere . How ethical is that .
The problem with ethics is that the one who is being ethical places him or her self "outside " in my view.
In a kind of other universe looking down from that place in to what is going on on planet earth. Still i call my self a Humanist. How ethical. How ethical will i be in extreme situations ? Not that much different from the rest of humanity. So are you preaching non violence and pacifism ?

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