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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Should the UK sell arms to India and Pakistan?
As tensions escalate between India and Pakistan, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is to hold discussions with India about the sale of British military aircraft.
In recent days there has been confusion over whether Britain had suspended arms sales to the region due to the current instability.
India already has a £1bn order with British Aerospace for Hawk trainer jets and is now asking the MoD about the purchase of Sea Harriers, fully-fledged combat jets.
The UK Shadow Foreign Secretary, Michael Ancram, has said the export of arms should be temporarily suspended in the present crisis situation.
Should the UK sell arms to India and Pakistan? Do you think an arms embargo should be put in place?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
No we should not sell arms to India or Pakistan or, for that matter, any other unstable country. These weapons we sell might then be turned against our own service men and women, which has happened in the past. Will we never learn?
Lets face it - Modern arms do not exponentiate human casualty but minimize it. The trick of modern warfare is to maximise damage to the enemy by destroying their military infrastructure. Modern Arms sales, like fighter jets and laser guided missiles, offer far more precision and depth to an attack than an army of a million men all walking inside enemy territory with machine guns - killing everyone in their path. The ban on arms sales won't stop conflict and is unnecessary, even foolish.
No one should sell arms to anyone. It makes me sick that large companies make their millions by distributing devices for injury and killing in places where they are guaranteed to be used and be in high demand.
Arjang Arya, UK
I think that there should be no doubt whatsoever on how the government should handle this situation. Both Pakistan and India are both powerful contries,and both are aware that there could be a nuclear war. The government should stop selling arms to these countries, until the threat of war is over. If they carried on selling arms, they are only encouraging Pakistan and India to fight, and one day the weapons that we have supplied may be used against our own country. This is a tricky situation, but isn't it about time Tony Blair showed us what he is really made of and do the best thing for our country?
As an engineer I can assure people that as defence spending comes out of our taxes, if we stopped manufacturing arms, engineers could be more gainfully employed working on civil projects, such as railway infrastructure and flood defences, that would result in less delays and insurance claims as well as less pressure on the public purse.
John M, NZ/UK
We should act immediately to take arms away from both countries. They need to be disarmed until they can calm down.
You hand-wringing liberals make me laugh. For decades the defence industry has been a key part of the British economy and a major contributor to the prosperity that you enjoy. Its not for us to dictate what a customer does with the weapons we sell. If we do, he'll just buy them from someone else and the only net effect will be a loss of trade for the UK.
Of course we should; when have ethics and morals ever stopped any UK government making some cash?
In the wake of 11 September, both the UK and the US need to re-evaluate their policies on weapons sales to anyone. Regardless of what the law says now, any wise person would agree that selling weapons to a nation like Pakistan is foolish. Who can guarantee Musharraf won't be the next Saddam Hussein? Saddam started out an innocent military dictator making overtures to the West just like Musharraf, and look where selling weapons to him during the 80s got us.
How far do you take it? Are cars alright if they promise not to let the military use them? What about camouflage material? Kitchen knives? They are all military supplies in one way or another. You could stop a war if you denied the country food that might be used as rations. Of course in doing so, as many might starve as would have been shot but never mind, you feel better for not having contributed to the war effort. That is what these calls to stop arms sales are really about: trying to feel superior and smug about your moral goodness.
The only consideration in selling arms is the possibility of them being used against ourselves.
If you are going to sell weapons to Pakistan and India then what response do you expect to get when you ask them to show restraint? It shouldn't be a mystery why arms dealers and peace negotiators don't sit in the same company.
Rachael Prudence, UK
What's the big deal? Britain sells weapons to lots of people. Should we stop now because someone might actually use them?
It is time there was a winding down of the arms market. There should be more agreement amongst the members of the United Nations to stop sending arms to places of unrest.
Not only should the UK stop selling arms to India and Pakistan, it should quit this ugly business that leads to thousands of innocent civilians being killed all over the world.
Farhan Mahmood, UK
It would be totally irresponsible to sell weaponry to India at this time, given its already huge military advantages over Pakistan.
Also the Pakistan president - at considerable personal danger to himself - allied his country with the US and Britain in the war against terrorism. Britain must not now stab him in the back for his courage and loyalty.
So politicians are upset that military hardware could be used for military purposes. What did they think it was going to be used for?
If I don't sell heroin to the kids on my street someone else will. Does that make it OK?
An arms embargo should definitely be placed on all countries which are in default of any of UN resolutions. India and Pakistan have not fulfilled UN resolutions that required a plebiscite in Kashmir; hence both should be embargoed.
Well, obviously if we don't sell weapons to anybody then nobody will fight? All we're doing by selling weapons to India and Pakistan is securing UK jobs. If we didn't sell them weapons then they would just get them from somewhere else.
It makes sense for the UK to sell arms - it creates jobs here and helps the economy. This country must, at the end of the day, look out for itself.
If India and Pakistan are foolish enough to use the weapons on each other then that is their lookout.
The current system for vetting overseas customers of the UK defence industry has not even been able to prevent sales to countries that subsequently were at war with Britain. In the Falklands conflict, Argentina fielded destroyers build on the Clyde that had not even been paid for, whilst Iraq used all manner of British equipment during the Gulf War. Given this, the news that weapons are to be sold to such an unstable region is, whilst appalling, hardly a surprise.
You can be for or against arms sales, but you cannot be for them on the proviso that they are not used. Harrier jump jets have no other uses apart from destroying things, so why the sudden moralising from all concerned? The decision was always wrong. It hasn't suddenly become so.
Ben, United Kingdom
Here are a few facts for all you so-called "realists" who support arms sales to India and Pakistan for pragmatic reasons:
There is no good reason why an international agreement/action could not be raised if enough people put pressure on their governments, as happened with the ban on landmines, CFCs, ivory trading or any of a number of issues of international importance.
Yes, I believe Britain should export arms to most countries around the world to safeguard employment. To use the government's vague words of not exporting arms for aggression or internal control is ludicrous. If they cant be used for these purposes, just where do they think arms will be used - For parades only.
Andrew, United Kingdom
Firstly there are the moral issues of selling weapons to both sides in a war. Secondly, and most importantly, there is the so-called ethical foreign policy. You cannot say, here buy my weapons - sorry you can't use them. This is hypocrisy at its most disgusting, but unfortunately, not something that surprises me with this government. Each nuke is estimated to kill 800,000 people in the densely populated cities, so the UK is willing to sell the delivery systems. It absolutely disgusts me.
Yes, the UK should continue to sell weapons to responsible democracies, such as India, engaged in the global war against terrorism. The Hawk Fighter contract with India will also serve to secure the jobs of many British engineers. India, the UK, the US, Russia and Israel all find themselves on the same side in the global war against terrorism. Military co-operation and sales between these powers is absolutely necessary to ensure that terrorism cannot rear its ugly head in any meaningful way.
Isn't our New Labour multi-cultural government being a bit racist, selling weapons and services which will help to kill Third World citizens?
And has Blair asked the Indian and Pakistani communities in Britain what they think of all this? Or does that only happen when he knows that they'll back him?
How dare anyone in the UK take the moral high ground against either India or Pakistan (or any other country for that matter) when the UK sells the tools of destruction and death to anyone who will cough up the money?! The UK should immediately shut down all its defence manufacturing plants. It can't be trusted with the responsibility!
The sales of ALL weapons should be stopped as they cause the death of innocent people around the world. If people want to fight each other then let do it "hand to hand". It's wrong to make money out of things that kill. The whole world should be disarmed then everyone can live in peace, not worrying about who will launch nuclear bombs etc.
And what good would that do - they would just buy them from elsewhere. Oh, and the Conservatives have a bit of a cheek getting on the high horse after some of the regimes they happily sold arms to in the 80s and 90s.
It's a pathetic excuse to say that if UK does not sell the arms, someone else will. It's time the UK showed a way to the rest of the arms-exporting countries. The whole arms manufacturing industry should be closed down and people re-employed elsewhere. Arms only bring destruction and grief in families who have lost their dear ones in wars. How can you think of feeding your own family from the sale of a weapon that will carry someone's blood?
Selling arms to both countries motivates both countries to escalate their arms build up. They both need to spend more money on fighting poverty. It's a shame that both countries can spend so much money for the defence of their country, yet they rely on free handouts from the international community to feed and look after the welfare of their citizens.
Reply to A Khan: India does not rely on international aid to feed its people and has not done so for some decades. That said, it is a shame that so much is spent by India on arms, when there are many other issues faced by the country.
Let's see - should the UK pour petrol onto a blazing inferno? I don't think so. People buy, develop and deploy weapons to use them, not just to have them sitting pretty at their bases.
Kulbir Lalli, UK
I don't think we should be selling arms to anyone, let alone India or Pakistan. Isn't it hypocritical of our western governments to be sending peace delegates across the world and generating lots of vote winning headlines while behind closed doors they are shaking hands with arms dealers who peddle death, destruction and misery?
An olive branch in one hand, a gun in the other - the hypocrisy is staggering.
Sadly our country has a history of this sort of thing, why let war get in the way of making some money? We are sending Jack Straw over to ease the tensions while selling weapons, you couldn't make it up. I'm ashamed and angry.
Yes, all arms sales to India and Pakistan should be halted. We cannot side with either country as we have a large number of people from both. We must try and ensure that a dialogue is kept open between them and try to come up with a compromise that will suit both country's needs.
That doesn't make much difference.
Both India and Pakistan are mentally prepared for any eventuality. As Pakistan is far behind in the conventional war power, it may opt for nukes in case of Indian severe assault.
But one thing is sure. Both the UK and the US are responsible for the arms race in the Indian sub continent. But the UK can show that they are very serious about the situation, if they stop selling now.
From what is a very immoral industry we can hardly expect it to say 'no' to more profits. If arms companies are not to trade with certain countries it will have to be legislation that makes that happen. When two countries are about to start World War III, how can anyone in the UK dare say "I know, let's sell them a few more tanks"?
Yes the aircraft should be sold to India. Who are we to judge how they use them as long it is not against us? Forget the lefty ditherers who oppose it, it is good for UK business. Anyway, if India spends its defence budget on conventional weapons it will have less to spend on its nuclear programme.
I think the UK has no right to act in this high-handed manner. It smacks of colonialism.
Let me remind you, the loser is the UK and not India, if it puts an embargo on arm sales, as there are lots of other sellers in the international arms market.
An arms embargo shouldn't be put in place for two reasons. First, both countries already have nuclear weapons, and suspending the sales of conventional weapons won't change that fact. Secondly, our withdrawal from arms sales will be quickly filled by other nations such as the US, Russia, Israel and others. The only loser in an arms embargo would be the UK.
When any country is supplying arms to either side where a major conflict may happen, we are bound to find ourselves wondering whether the conflict is being deliberately stirred up by those interested in selling arms. It seems to me that there is a conflict of interest when Britain is both urging India and Pakistan to calm things down, while at the same time trying to sell either of them weapons and military equipment. This kind of thing is an all-too-common aspect of international relations which always strikes me as utterly hypocritical.
All sales of arms to both sides should be suspended until the threat of conflict is removed. The last thing we want to do right now is to add to the growing tension and instability between India and Pakistan. Jobs in the weapons industry are obviously important but they must take second place.
Of course it should stop selling arms to India, (or Pakistan). It would be a bit hypocritical to worry about the escalation to all out war and in the meantime sell India fighter jets, capable of being used in the war. As a country we contribute too much to arming other countries, even with weapons that are banned or not in use by ourselves. Then complain when they use them!!
Of course we shouldn't stop selling arms to India and Pakistan. Both nations are our allies and so must be treated fairly. But the government's job is to support the British economy and safeguard British jobs, not to try to act as some kind of moral crusader.
Andrew T, UK
It seems that Labour's ethical foreign policy, like so much else they trumpeted in opposition, can be neatly packed away at the sniff of an open chequebook. Even if the British public don't care for civilian lives overseas, they should realise that saving a few thousand jobs at home is a pathetic consolation for the potential of a nuclear war.
I cannot see why we should not continue to sell arms to India and Pakistan. They already have more than sufficient to blow each other to bits if they opt to do so. If we don't, someone else surely will, so why risk British jobs just for some minor political points scoring exercise?
There should not be an embargo on selling arms to either Pakistan or India. We might as well have the employment and money in our pockets.
At such a time as this, to offer any side a military advantage over the other would be irresponsible.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Brian M, UK
This is a double-edged sword as a lot of jobs rely on defence contracts and there is no doubt about it that sales in arms contribute enormously to the economy. Whilst I wish we could live in a world where it was necessary to spend trillions of dollars on arms when money could be better spent on food and medicine, I am a realist. We expect the right to have own armed forces, and so we should respect the rights of other countries to do the same. However exceptions to this have to be made when arms can be modified to carry nuclear weapons or they are likely to be used by oppressive regimes.
The question is, should the UK sell arms to anyone?
Once you've accepted that it is morally OK for the UK to sell arms to other nations, there can be no moral objection to selling arms to either (or both) of these two nations.
They are better off buying high quality goods from us than shoddy weaponry from elsewhere. Every country needs armed forces; it would be hypocritical to deny these countries the right to defend themselves just because tension is high in their region.
I don't think the UK should sell arms to either country, but at least they are selling to both nations and not to only one of them. A great deal of the Iranian resentment for the US in the 1980s was due to the fact that the US sold weapons to Iraq, but not to Iran. At least if the UK is selling weapons to both countries, neither can accuse the UK of favouring one over the other. However, I would rather not see a fourth war between India and Pakistan and since the UK has interfered so much in the affairs of the subcontinent, I would like to see this country butt out... for once.
Reply to Stacey Turner: A good deal of the Iranian resentment of the US is also due to CIA involvement in the overthrow of a legitimate elected government which (directly) led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country in the 70s. I am glad that as an American, she now feels countries should not interfere in the affairs of others - if the US as a whole would listen to her, perhaps there would not be so many trained terrorists with no cause left to fight for but Kashmir.
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