History has proven that human nature is capable of producing and using weapons of ever greater and more destructive force. During the centuries, the weapons used in conflicts have evolved from simple nature-supplied tools to potentially apocalyptical instruments of mass destruction. Although the debate on the essentially violent nature of mankind may well rage on forever, it cannot be denied that humans are the only living creatures that can understand and eventually control their own violent urges.
The 20th century itself is an example of this inherent human contradiction, having brought forth at least three major arms races, two m ajor worldwide wars, and the greatest number of casualties of war ever imagined. On the other hand, the 20th century has also seen many efforts by individuals, pressure groups, and governments or governmental organizations, trying to appeal to the masses in order to try to stop wars, and limit arms races, arms trafficking, the production of nuclear weapons, and the production of all sorts of other devices that have been designed to be harmful.
Now, well into the 21st century, we may ask ourselves to what extent these great efforts have had their effects, and we are morally required to take the problems that still lie waiting into consideration. One of these problems, the problem which shall be discussed in this paper, is the vast supply, demand, and trade of arms worldwide. With military expenditure being the single largest spending in the world – with an estimated annual total budget of 900 billion dollars (Shah, 2007) –, with a globalizing trend (Shah, 2007), and highly politically – instead of morally – motivated, this problem might well be the most serious threat to global peace and overall human wellbeing in the near future.
Paper structure, definitions and explication
In the next two chapters, following the three-stage scheme for moral reasoning about concrete cases, the ethical aspects of the production and the trade of arms will be analysed. The fifth chapter will deal with the deliberation stage. The first stage the explication stage will be considered in this chapter.
In order to keep the extent of this paper within the required framework, it has been necessary to greatly narrow down the research question. First, some definitions of the narrowed subjects will be presented, with a number of reasons. Secondly, the structure into which this paper has been divided shall be explained.
In this paper, the armament trade will necessarily be reduced to the definition “large industrial firms legally supplying considerable amounts of large weapons to governments”. In this definition, it is to be noted that 1) small companies and individual traders are not being considered, nor are other more shady non-legal business deals. In order for an ethical discussion to make sense, 2) considerable amounts of weaponry must be traded, to exclude an occasional “mistake”, which might not be based on the company’s policy. The definition of 3) large weapons rules out the considerable ethical problem of the small arms trade, as well as the inexhaustible subject of land mine usage and trade. Finally, 4) guerilla bands and other non-official customers have not been taken into consideration, while the definition leaves room for an ethical discussion on the kind of governments that should be considered as potential customers. One more remark is required here; in this paper it will not be attempted to solve or discuss problems in levels of industrialization between different countries, and the possibility of some countries to make product that other countries cannot make.
When taking into account the ethical considerations of the various questions, a systematic way of reasoning shall be used, as indicated in the article Introduction to Ethics: three varieties of moral reasoning by H. van den Belt, and the article A three-stage scheme for moral reasoning about concrete cases...
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