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  • Robin Horsfall

Swords to Ploughshares?

If I manufacture a lethal weapon in my garage and sell it, can I claim that I have no responsibility for how that weapon is used?

I can claim that the purchaser was an adult, seemed of good character and promised not to use it for criminal purposes. When the weapon is used to commit a murder can I absolve myself of all responsibility in spite of the absolute fact that I manufactured and sold the weapon? I wonder how that argument would stand up in court?

Western governments claim they can absolve themselves from responsibility for the arms that they manufacture. The purchaser must provide an end user certificate or a promise that the purchase will go to a responsible user. The responsible user is almost always a government body. Once the weapons, spares ammunition and training are released to the foreign government and the money is paid, then the manufacturers and vendors can absolve themselves from all responsibility.

Governments will correctly claim that the huge amounts of money earned from the manufacture and sale of weapons keep many people in work and that the trade is important for the economy. They will claim that they 'followed the rules' and did everything possible to prevent the misuse of the lethal weapons that they manufactured and sold.

The morality of their argument is built on the foundations of expediency and obeying rules. Their distance from the use of a weapon gives the vendor enough space to absolve themselves of all responsibility.

Today the United Kingdom is selling weapons of war to Saudi Arabia (amongst others) a feudal society with an appalling history of human rights abuses, a country where the ruling family can do whatever they please. There is no rule of law only the rule of the monarch. This oil rich state has until recently kept its systems firmly within its own borders. If threatened they simply purchased the assistance of those countries that manufactured the weapons to fight for them as mercenaries. The first and second Gulf Wars would be two examples of this. Although Saudi Arabia was directly under threat from Iraq the Saudis provided only a negligible number of playboy pilots in fast jets to fight that war. Similar pilots still fly fast jets against undefended civilian populations in Yemen a country without an air force or even surface to air missiles because they can't get end user certificates or because they don't have the money to purchase the weapons.

Western Governments wring their hands and protest about the use of weapons but continue to fulfil contracts for the continued supply of munitions. They claim that if they didn't supply the weapons then someone else would.

If I returned to my garage could I make the same claim? Could I claim that some one else would have provide the murder weapon? Could I claim in court that it wasn't my fault?

Saudi Arabia has stepped outside its borders and now feels that it can commit murder on foreign soil albeit in a Saudi Consulate in the belief that it can buy its way out of the situation. They can threaten not to buy more weapons, send 'blood money' to alleviate their guilt and create a cabal of manufacturers, vendors and users who will use the most implausible excuses to carry on much as before.

The United Kingdom has trained and armed all of it enemies since WW2. Perhaps now it is time for our country to take the moral high ground and stop the sale of weapons to all foreign powers and let someone else take responsibility for the carnage that these weapons create?

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