The Ethics of Export: Landmines and Torture Devices No Longer Leave Our Shores, but Arms Policy Needs to Be More Transparent to Get Public Support. (Defence)

By Clark, David | New Statesman (1996), July 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Ethics of Export: Landmines and Torture Devices No Longer Leave Our Shores, but Arms Policy Needs to Be More Transparent to Get Public Support. (Defence)


Clark, David, New Statesman (1996)


Since Labour's return to power in 1997, few aspects of government policy have received more sustained and critical attention than the question of ethics in the conduct of foreign affairs. Much of this was to be expected. The democratic left has always aspired to a world based on respect for universal rights. Often this has resulted in a conflict between the principles of internationalism and the demands of governing within the framework of the nation-state.

It was inevitable, therefore, that the incoming Labour government's foreign policy would be judged according to standards more demanding than those applied to its Conservative predecessor. What perhaps couldn't have been anticipated was the scale and intensity of that scrutiny. The initial flurry of interest was provoked by a reference contained in the Foreign Office mission statement published a few days after Labour's election victory; in which support for human rights and democracy was listed as one of the government's four key international objectives. In presenting the mission statement, Robin Cook referred to this as an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy, a phrase translated in the following day's papers as a commitment to pursue an "ethical foreign policy".

The intervention of the headline-writers had dramatic consequences. What had been the last in a list of four priorities (the others were security, prosperity and quality of life) was suddenly held aloft as the only point of reference, raising expectations of diplomazy without moral ambiguity that were never likely to be satisfied. This one-dimensional portrayal of Labour's foreign policy became associated with the single issue of arms exports.

Here, much of the comment was based on the false assumption that Labour considered the arms trade to be inherently unethical. Even now, the UK'S position as the second-largest exporter of military equipment is cited as proof that Labour has broken its promise -- as though the extent to which a foreign policy can be judged "ethical" is directly proportional to the quantity of weapons exported. In fact, Labour has never shared the moral absolutism of those opposed to the arms trade, but has sought instead to redefine and police the boundaries between what is legitimate and what is not. The most obvious example of this was the decision to ban the export of whole categories of equipment, namely landmines and torture equipment.

A second misapprehension was the belief that Labour had promised to stop weapons sales to countries that abuse human rights. It was enough, in this context, for the government to license military equipment for export to a repressive regime for the critics to cry "foul". Again, Labour's position was always more nuanced. Its 1997 manifesto said that it would "not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or aggression". At issue was not simply the record of the country in question, but the purpose to which specific weapons systems would be put.

The new export controls introduced by Labour reflect the advantages and drawbacks of this aim. Instead of declaring whole countries to be undesirable (international arms embargoes excepted), export licence applications are judged on a case-by-case basis against a list of criteria. Licences are only withheld if there are reasons to believe that the weapons involved will be used to harm Britain's national security, provoke regional conflict, suppress human rights, carry out international aggression or undermine sustainable development.

There are obvious difficulties with this system. One is that it relies, to a large extent, on assumptions about the reliability and future intentions of the end-user. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Ethics of Export: Landmines and Torture Devices No Longer Leave Our Shores, but Arms Policy Needs to Be More Transparent to Get Public Support. (Defence)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.