As an engineer in the UK, one of the many well-paid jobs available is to become a weapons or munitions engineer. The UK is the second largest arms exporter in the world and some of the countries it exports to are “human rights priority countries”.
While some of these arms will be used for just causes, it is likely that some will be used immorally and will cause injury or death to innocents.
Is it therefore morally acceptable for an engineer in the UK to contribute in design and manufacture of arms when the end use is not always known?
It is morally indefensible for an engineer in the UK to work in a job that contributes to the manufacturing of arms
The arms trades are significantly influenced by the drive for profits and as such manufacturers that are left unchecked will exploit commercial opportunity to the detriment of ethical consideration. According to research undertaken by Transparency International, the arms trade accounts for 49% of corruption in all world trade.
Engineers working in this industry are complicit in any unethical use of arms that are sold by the company for which they work.
In 2015, United Kingdom sold weapons to 21 of the Foreign Office’s 30 “human rights priority countries” – those identified by the government as being where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place” . Saudi Arabia was included in that list, a country that has been committing war crimes in Yemen – nearly 500 civilians were killed by Saudi artillery between June 2015 and June 2016.
A responsible engineer should consider the positive and negative effects of their actions on any stakeholders of any moral problem, before deciding if their actions are morally acceptable. In this case stakeholders include the people/country/group on which the arms could potentially be used.
Evidently, if some weapons are being exported to countries with poor human rights records, it is possible, or even likely that this group of people will include innocents.
It is unlikely that an engineer will have full knowledge of the destination of the arms in question, however engineers should not assume that companies they work for conduct their business around a robust moral framework. Much of the time this is likely to not be the case. For most companies, the primary motivation for doing business is one of greed. This means that a morally responsible engineer should thoroughly evaluate the morals of any work they may undertake in a prospective job before they accept the job offer.
That being the case, it is unacceptable for an engineer to claim ignorance, or pass blame onto decision makers should he or she carry out work for a company that knowingly practices business that is unethical.
Therefore, in the likely case that the engineer is unaware of the final use of any arms that he or she may help to manufacture or develop, the morally correct course of action would be to abstain from performing any work to aid the manufacture of such arms on the basis that they could potentially be used to cause harm to innocents.
In light of the possibility that working for an arms producing company in the UK could help contribute to the corrupt sale of arms for unethical means, when judged against any of the ethical frameworks, it is evident that the ethical decision would be to not work for arms producing companies.
It is morally acceptable for an engineer in the UK to work in a job that contributes to the manufacture of arms
If carried out correctly, the engineering of weapons and munitions can be looked upon as a morally ethical task. For instance, reducing the misuse of weaponry lowers the risk of collateral damage through more carefully designed systems. Adding safeguards to the weapons and maintaining the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would not only prevent misuse of weapons sold by individual parties, it would also reduce weapons access to hostile countries. There is also an element of trust that needs to be taken into consideration. Having faith that the government’s moral views are in line with your own adds to one’s own assurance that the actions undertaken by those in possession of the weapons are acceptable. People in power of weapons, including the government and independent weapons manufacturing companies, have strict rules and guidelines to follow. Adhering to them will help keep the public safe especially when the weapons are developed to defend freedom and liberty rather than using it as an opportunity to make profit, which in that case, would be immoral.
There are many stakeholders to be considered in scenarios such as this. These include the persons using the weapon, our allies, those who are targets of said weapons and any innocent bystanders made collateral. Those using the weapons need to have confidence in the fact that the weapons are safe to use for themselves and understand any effects the weapons may have. Extensive knowledge of the weapons capabilities would help the determine the exact outcome when used. Our allies entrust us with their safety by and rely on us to continuously improve our arsenal to keep up or even stay ahead of the ever-expanding threats from countries hostile to us and our allies. There are strict rules as to what weapons can be used on enemy combatants and it is the engineer’s’ responsibility to comply with these protocols.
It is vital that advancements be continuously made in the field of weaponry. This will lead to improved accuracy and concise lethality which will swiftly deal with scenarios where innocents are at risk of getting hurt. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of the systems allows for a safer and more reliable use. In a utopian world where the line between ambition and greed doesn’t overlap and mindless acts of terror isn’t an issue, the concept of a weapons free world would easily be accepted.
The targets sanctioned by the government for elimination are deemed moral whereas innocents targeted by rogue factions are not moral. Through engineering munitions and weapons, we can improve the accuracy of the weapons and reduce collateral damage. The ways in which enemy combatants are taken down are also conducted in a somewhat humane manner having come a long way since the days of mustard gases thanks to the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (effects of mustard gas can be seen below).
There are already measures in place to make this case as moral as possible. Engineers need to remember that they carry a part of the responsibility and cannot simply pass it on.
Group 41: Archie Judd, Zhenping Pan, Clydrex Katahena, Reginald James