Officer Ethics - supporting the arms trade?

Discussion in 'Officers' started by Victorian_Major, Nov 22, 2007.

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  1. My Army career was dotted with misdemeanours and I have been casting around for ones that I can claim that the silken tongue of the Emperor Mong (see separate thread) was responsible for. Here's one I can't pin on him...

    I once got ten extras (and arguably found myself in another regiment) for refusing to support a major Wiltshire-based military 'happening' that was effectively an arms fair with a solitary and rather afterthoughtish 'public day' to keep the plebs and the audit office happy.

    My rather simplistic belief was that as an Army Officer I was happy to use the equipment but less than happy to help BAE, Royal Ordnance, etc sell the stuff. I still think that this is the case and that there's nothing in your pay or in the job specification that requires you to abandon this ethical position.

    The Royal Regiment in question was, I think, occupationally bad at seeing this distinction and that was a leadership and a judgement thing. In my later flying career there was far less toadying and courting Westlands for cash, for example.

    Was I right? Can a soldier draw the luxuriously ethical distinction that I did? Or are we all - by association - linked to the success (British jobs) and necessary prosperity of such arguably dodgy organisations as BAE?
  2. I think you were bloody honourable.

    Different in the WW2 days of Total War, but what is good for the defence industry these days is not necessarily what is good for the Army or the country as a whole. Often quite the opposite.
  3. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Especially considering that BAe is a US firm in all but name.
  4. Couple of points, these days the MOD usually charges the filthy arms manufacturers for such facilities, and by making this difficult you are preventing the MOD from recovering some of the cost you generate for them, effectively you are trying to cut in an albeit small way the defence budget.

    Equally a significant proportion of the money used by those nasty arms companies to develop the new goodies you need/want comes from the profits made on these export sales because the MOD is very mean about the ammount of profit it allows the comapnies to make on sales to MOD and R&D money comes from profit and profit alone. The MOD spends very little money these days on R&D type activity.

    Your opinion is of course yours but in many ways you are suggesting cutting of your nose to spite your face as you and every other soldier does benefit from these activities
  5. but maker of fine plastic bags :twisted:
    got lots of free booze once abusing the there sales team at farnbourgh not from bae but other gun makers who thought it was highly amusing watching toms tell the truth about SA80
    ex senior officer wrote a very nasty letter to the green jackets about our behavior must have been crab air as wasn't in the rgj :twisted:
  6. A lawful order is a lawful order - you could have just gone and told everyone the stuff was crap!
  7. For me, one either does defense and 'war' or one doesn't. If you see a value in having a standing army, then the same applies to having a trade that provides the tools.

    I think if you follow the argument to its logical conclusion, we need an Arms manufacturing industry and a good one. That said, it aint black and white and there is room for an ethical debate; you may support the manufacture but not how that company trades for example. Then, do you blame the company or the government for that? There are economic and diplomatic considerations if one gets too lofty, it's a rich tapestry.

    However, regardless of the validity of your argument at the time, the real point here is that you were demonstrating the independant thinking and moral courage the Army SAYS it wants but is so lacking in some of our peer group. Bloody good for you. It's odd and it saddens me that you were punished, perhaps that's why we have so many nodding dogs in whitehall?

    This opens up a deeper debate, one of dis-obeying orders. Anyone who commissioned about the same time as me might remember Chris Keebles fantastic lecture on this (dont know if he still lectures at the Academy), a lot of the audience couldn't get to grips with the concept of dis-obeying a 'wrong' order, it always sat quite well with me.

    There is a time for doing what one is told regardless of ones personal feelings and there are times when one is able to question. I trust that an officer knows the difference.

    So, good for you for not following blindly, VM, and I hope you are one of the ones that stay, I'd share a trench with you etc. However, you are now further on in your career, how would you deal with it if the tables were turned? What if one of your officers had an issue with an instruction that you gave where you didn't see an ethical problem with it?

    I'd like to think that if I'd have been your OC, I'd have respected your moral courage and if I disagreed, invited you to have a chat about the rights and wrongs over a coffee. I might well have talked to you about the wider implications of your decision and what you would do if you were me or further up the CoC. It would have been a chance to get to know you a bit better and if I was 'right' to ask you to attend, I'd have been able to demonstrate that to you and justify through logical argument. However, if after discussion you're view point was thought through and soundly set, you held your ground in a debate and had a 'bloddy good reason', I'd like to think I'd have had the moral courage to find something else for you to do.

    I always thought that if an officer does not excercise the integrity and courage to dis-obey an order if they have a damn good reason for doing so, then frankly, we are letting our soldiers down.
  8. I understand this, but I think that there is some real subtlety to this issue. Does the involvement of serving soldiers not serve as an endorsement of the company and the product? Is this not anticompetitive? Does a soldier benefit because they are being asked to create the link between the serving soldier and potentially duff kit? Brighton Hippy was able to somewhat sabotage BAE's attempt to combine the serving soldier and SA80, but in other situations it would have created the false message that soldiers were endorsing SA80.

    The lines are blurred. We can't think that being used to appear with equipment is wrong but there are times and situations where it is beneath the dignity of the serving soldier. By this I mean that standing beside some bespoke piece of UK-built rubbish is not in the best interests of the soldier when an impartial procurement system would by a proven piece of off-the shelf non-Brit kit that works out of the box.

    If a British Kitemarked piece of wonderfulness does come along that helps us win wars then great. But do UK manufacturers factor a complicit politically-led procurements system into their delivery of crapness?

    The trouble is, where do our ethics start and stop? With battle-winning kit of with the routine stay-at-home stuff. Should we help EDS sell DII? A lot of the chain of command is helping to do so by their silence.#

    Some of this is digression. I objected to being personally associated with those that make and sell arms and this is more provocative than my above comments. I personally draw the distinction between someone who uses equipment in the service of his country and someone who is involved in the pan-national selling of that equipment. I think that it is a potentially questionable and luxurious ethical position so expect some incoming. Not least because I think that the relationship with our arms industry changes with total war (as Dilfor implies).

    BTW, I didn't disobey a direct order. I was asked to join the project and carefully framed my objections, first to the COC but also to my peers.
  9. So you are happy to use weapons to kill people for money becuase the government instucts you to do for poltical and economic reasons.

    You are not happy to help suport british arms manufaturers that mamufatures arms for money for poltical and ecomic reasons when the government ask you to do so.

    The British army is there to suport British interests.

    In regards to being anti competive is this an enthical moral or legal stance? Would it worry you in a military capacity being "anticompetive" would you only use similar equipement and capabilies that the other side had. If you had more men would you ask a few to wait on the sidelines as it was anticompetive.

    Even if this so called arms endorsement was anticompetive legally that would not be your concern as an officer. To say you have some ethical stance on being anticompetive whos ethics would you be applying?. I doubt this would be armys ethics typical civilian ethics doubtful I do not think the typical brit would consider this to be unethical. A buiness ethic well I dont think this would be considered unethical for an british army officer to suport the british arms buiness. Morally I would not consider it to wrong for a British army officer to suport british arms industry.

    As an army officer or any army you are there to suport british interests and kill people to achive these if required.
    To worry about product endorsement for fear of being uncompetive but happy to kill people for ecomics advanatages; which could also be argued as uncompetve on the a buiness level seems inconsistant.

    Of course you could just belive the army defend British lives there is no poltical or economic agenda that afganistan has no stragetic importance control or resources iraq help make that nasty man go away.

    I think your worrrying about endorsement was frivalous at best. Possibly confussed mixing a percepetion of a law or free trade ideology with a relevant ethic to you as an army person.
  10. If everybody thought like that, a certain instructor in gunnery would have had to buy his own balloon!
  11. Or got the Regiment (with a fine history of Aerial Observation by numerous means including ballooning) to cough up the ackers for one as opposed to spunking its cash up the wall on a museum that nobody visits.

    But that's another thread...
  12. Hello Victorian_Major,

    British engineers are the finest in the world and British defence companies sell some of the finest kit in the world.
    The Americans are notoriously hostile to buying foreign equipment yet they buy more from Britain than from anywhere else.
    British made equipment is no more likely to be "duff" than that made anywhere else.

    It could also be argued that there is no such thing as off the shelf equipment in most areas of defence manufacturing.
    Private companies can rarely afford to risk investing thousands of millions of pounds of shareholders money in a project on the off chance of getting a sale.
    What is often referred to as "off the shelf" is more often "bespoke" equipment designed to meet the requirements of other nations.
    Such equipment rarely works "out of the box" though it may seem that way if we procure it years later when the bugs have been ironed out and it is approaching obsolesence.
    Kit only works well when time and money has been invested to make it work well.
    When such investment is not made,troops suffer the consequences.

    Defence companies may be privately run but they are effectively state controlled.
    For military,economic and political reasons,those countries with the ability to do so buy equipment domestically wherever possible,with the noticable exception of the United Kingdom.
    How many developing nations (often supported by British foreign aid) do not develop and manufacture their own military trucks and small arms?
    British taxes are even used to support nations which develop their own ballistic nuclear missiles,an expense British forces could never dream of.
    Rather than supporting domestic arms manufacturers,it often seems that the government goes out of it's way to destroy them.

    With few potential export customers,British defence companies are condemned to satisfying the whims of the Ministry Of Defence.
    An organisation which spreads it's resources too thinly over too many ill thought out projects,constantly changes specifications and moves goalposts before cutting orders to uneconomic levels or cancelling projects altogether.
    At the same time,they are expected to compete domestically with foreign manufacturers which are supported by their own goverment's generous investment and domestic only procurement policies.

    That British defence companies do so well on the export market,even with a highly uncompetitive exchange rate,speaks volumes about their abilities.

    Please also bear in mind that if it were not for "someone who is involved in the pan-national selling of that equipment" British forces would not now have Mastiffs,Javelins and Chinooks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Many of our allies would not be able to operate at all in Afganistan without equipment bought through international arms trading,such as Canadian Leopard 2 tanks,Dutch PanzerHaubitze 2000s and and Norwegian F16s.

  13. An interesting assertion which begs the addition: 'who in turn must satisfy the rather more political whims of government'. How else did we end up with the truly awful FV432 series when the M113 was available off the shelf? British jobs, 'natch. Or conversely, why did we adopt the SLR against the EM2 (much more advanced for its day, although later to re-emerge wrapped in plastic - and in the wrong calibre - as the SA80)? Anglo-US politics, rather than common sense, I fear.

    Bravo, VM. Stick with your principles.
  14. VMs princples are misguided and inconissant. Worrying about an army ethic that does not exist there is no civilian ethic that this would breech.

    This is case of a little knowledge being worse than none.
  15. Thanks for the posts.

    Too much of our best kit would appear to be the stuff that we have due to a UOR - i.e. nobody was given the opportunity to screw the purchase up.

    It seems to be the case that the longer we spend getting something the more we let someone shaft us for it and/or we keep dicking around with the specs and quantities (so more fool us).

    BATES, SA80, the AH, Reynolds (cough) Boughtons, DII are on the tip of my tongue. There's also an iminent decision coming on Future Lynx (nice naval aircraft - sod all use on the battlefield).

    I'm not saying that I dislike the arms or defence industry - but I am saying that I prefer to keep my distance and this is because I am less convinced than some that the link is a healthy one. I hope that all soldiers who want to take my arguably myopic position are still able to do so.