Markets and Morality

On a prominent “liberal” radio show this morning (04.04.17), a number of justifications were offered up to support British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Here are a few counterpoints.

Justification #1:

If we don’t sell the weapons, the Saudis will simply buy them elsewhere; therefore nothing changes and we may as well profit from inevitable sales.

1) There would be change: Britain would cease to (in this specific case) profit from war crimes/murder/butchery.

2) If one continues to sell the arms, one surrenders all claims to “morality” (upon which military interventions/invasions are regularly – and fatuously – justified).

Justification #2:

If we sell the arms as opposed to some other nation, we at least can “keep an eye” on the buyer nation, in order to (supposedly) ensure that the buyer will keep its terror to a minimum.


1) A cynical, convenient and hollow excuse: the seller’s morality is undermined by the sale itself. Having sold such weapons, these seller surrenders its right to moralise over, and dictate, the deployment of said weapons.

2) The sale serves to legitimise the nation (allegedly) under inspection; and inherently justifies whatever use the arms are put to. If one does not want its product(s) to be put to a certain use, do not sell the product(s).

Justification #3:

The arms we sell are of a higher quality than those sold by other nations; and so their sale and (subsequent) deployment leads to less deaths/carnage than would be caused by the arms (technology) sold by a rival seller.


1) The most despicable of all (convenient) attempts to ease one’s conscience; and one which is so difficult to prove – especially in war zones or otherwise closed societies – that it can never serve as a convincing justification.

2) If one is truly seeking to justify arms sales through such perverse “humanitarianism”, then one should offer these technically-superior arms for free and cease profiting from the conflagration of human rights.

3) This justification also carries the colonial undertones which run through Britain’s imperial past of conquest, subjugation and extermination, which loosely translates into:

The violence of others could be worse; so our violence, in consequent contrast, is preferable and for your own good.

Such a perspective can never satisfactorily justify the sale of weapons.

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