Morality and arms dealing

The Financial Times reports that Britain’s new trade minister will promote the sale of British arms to the world. Nothing new in that. What is news is that Lord Green, an ordained Anglican priest, has written extensively on the need for ethical capitalism with such books as Serving Good? Serving Mammon?

There is nothing inherently contradictory between serving God and making money. In fact, both Judaism and Islam hold it in high esteem, as long as it is gotten fairly and is redistributed to those in need.

Whether arms sales fits the ethical criterion for money making is more complex. Unless a person is a pacifist, possessing, selling and using arms isn’t a problem per se. But who will buy the arms and how will they be used? This is the moral question. It isn’t good enough to close your eyes to the end user. It is one thing to sell a gun to a police officer, another to a known murderer.

While Lord Green’s role may turn out to be inconsistent with his stated ethical stance, it may also turn out to be a needed leavening agent in directing arms sales away from dictators. Purists may want to draw bold ethical lines, where principles are clearly on one side and depredation on the other, but the world is full of conflicting principles and values.

Lord Green should be judged on what he does, not on the office he has assumed.


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