Expect some new wars to prop up the arms industry

Samuel Brittan is right that "arms sales are bad for Britain" (31 January). But they are bad for still more reasons than those he adduces. The cost benefit analysis needs expanding to cover all the areas affected, and all the subsidies - de facto as well as de jure - need identifying. The spreading consequences of the dispersion, (the sale and resale) and the use of the arms require valuation. Remember the Stingers that the United States provided the anti-Russian Afghan "freedom fighters", which continue appearing.

Then what of the cost to the British taxpayer as a result of having to clear up the political, social, environmental and economic mess that follows the use of such weapons? What effect does the violence they fortify have on regional or general stability, and does that strengthen or weaken our diplomacy - Robin Cook's very sensible "critical engagement"?

Wall Street, rather than the Administration's understanding of the "national interest", is now the arbiter of American weapons policy; and because the arms industry is one of those that (as they put it) "educate" the Senate, American defence policy is being determined by Wall Street, rather than by the president. Hence the desire for a national missile defence system, the costs of which to the taxpayer would be endless, but which would fund the industry for ever; and with the collapse of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, there is the possibility of other, ever more profitable arms races.

We can certainly expect many more of the "wars" that are so convenient in propping up demand for the industry's products. There seems to be no political justification, for instance, after nearly ten years, for the weekly (sometimes daily) Anglo-American strikes against targets in Iraq, other than using up expensive weapons that have to be replaced: Saddam Hussein has not been disabled.

Now that the precautionary principle has won the day in Seattle over the World Trade Organisation's free-trade mantra, let us also adopt it in relation to the arms industry and arms trade.

Elizabeth Young
London W2

Samuel Brittan's finely tuned argument that arms sales are economically as well as ethically wrong breaks down when he clod-hops his way through communities that are dependent on such production.

Three million people may leave unemployment annually, but what proportion of these uproot and resettle with their families in another place?

And what happens to communities where significantly larger proportions are dependent on one industry or process? Should whole communities move?

Brittan reveals the hidden hand of subsidy that underpins the processes and politics of arms sales, but seems to expect workers and their communities to face the future without such provision in the name of "genuine [sic] market economics".

An ethical approach to the reduction of arms sales would surely redirect that taxpayer support towards systematic analysis of how people can survive in the face of what may be small adjustments across the economy, but which traumatise communities dependent on a single industry.

An ethical foreign policy may need to start at home.

David Browning
Rothbury, Northumberland