According to SPRI, the total annual military expenditure worldwide reaches up to 1.8 Trillion Dollars. It is also estimated by the UN that only 30 Billion dollars are needed to end world hunger. With so much money being spent in an industry, it could become an attractive proposition for graduating engineers. As the engineers of the future, it is our responsibility to contribute ethically to society. Therefore is it ethical for engineers to design the weapons of the future?
Economic and Utilitarian View
Throughout human history war has always been a constant. “In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war“. Humans by nature are competitive, we all compete for the best grades, the best job, the biggest house, and human led states are no different. The same way that natural selection favours the strongest animal so too it favours the stronger nation.
Even though our screens are filled with images of destruction, we are now living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. We have fewer wars and fewer deaths due to war than any other time. There is definitely no one reason why this happened, but evidence shows that deterrence does play a role. A simple way of describing this is that it gives the aggressor an assurance that any action towards another nation would be met by dire consequences. Although this is by no means the main reason we no longer have large wars. The development of new weapons such as nuclear bombs does seem to have had a net positive effect on the world as we know it.
From an economic standpoint, war costs the taxpayers money, however, this money goes into industry and advances our technology as a whole, arguably producing more wealth to society. One example is the story of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, a piece of software born out of DARPA, an American defence research agency. In fact, the beginning of DARPA itself led to the invention of GPS, after the discovery of a Russian satellite, sputnik.
Not spending the money, however, could cause issues of its own, as other countries will still spend money, resulting in a lack of readiness should we be invaded, or should any other country need our help in a conflict. Either of these outcomes result in serious problems, both in terms of keeping allies, and in terms of our own public safety and wellbeing.
Using a utilitarian frame of thinking when examining a problem means that when faced with a decision one should opt for the one that increases the utility of the people, whether that be the average utility or total utility. Developing new weapons may seem as an immoral choice due to the nature of human death involved, however evidence suggests that more advanced weapons means that the likelihood of attack is lower and thus fewer wars occur.
Engineering ideally should be used for the benefit of the masses by improving the quality and ease of their lives, an engineer’s independence is based on public trust, to maintain this trust, engineers should take the ethical responsibility of balancing the profit of engineering side with public welfare. Is it then ethical for engineers to build weapons used to end lives and destroy properties?
Military expenditure in some countries is up to 12.9% of its Gross Domestic Product; some would argue that this reduces the budget that should be used on developing other industries and enterprises. On the other hand, the huge amount of military expenditure on weapon development worldwide provides a lot of job opportunity to engineers and drives the development of engineering industries.
Weapons have numerous definitions, classes, and uses; whether or not engineers should be involved in designing weapons of the future should depend on the potential outcome of designing such weapons. Weapon can be designed in order to perpetrate physically injury or property destruction, it could also be a measure used to defend oneself, as well as an equipment to be used in a sport.
This discussion of whether or not it is ethical for engineers should be involved in designing weapons is a complex one as most weapons can be used for all the above stated purposes. In the midst of this complexity, a form of simplicity is that these weapons vary in their potential to be used for either of these purposes. Nuclear, chemical, radiological, and biological weapons, which are capable of causing extensive harm, ideally can either be used in attacking or defending a country’s sovereignty and territory, but not for sports. Firearms like rifles, pistols, or handguns, which vary in firing rate, recoil, accuracy etc. can be used for attacking, defending, and for sports. While weapons like the iron dome, stun guns, pepper sprays and flares are mostly defensive. In addition to using weapons having offensive, defensive and sporting potential, they could also serve as a preventive measure: there is a high chance that country A would not attack country B when it’s aware that country A has an extensive stockpile of weapons that could result in the extinction of its countrymen.
The availability of weapons encourages armed conflict, brings about destruction and results in fear and oppression of societies. Nevertheless, without a national defence, a country won’t hold its sovereignty and territory. In conclusion, it is only ethical for engineers to design weapons if they are used for defensive and sporting purposes.
46: Hugh Janice, Fred Smith, Donald Drumpf, Carmelo Anthony