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Why the Left is wrong about Britain's arms industry

Recent commentary published in Varsity has argued that the Cambridge Careers Service should effectively portray arms companies in a politicised and negative light to students thinking of working for them. These proposals are fuelled by one of the student left’s favourite placard causes; “demilitarisation”. The term’s only practical diplomatic use has ironically, been in reference to the border on the Korean peninsula—the world’s most heavily armed. Those calling for Cambridge to cut ties with BAE could not have it more wrong.

Firstly, like it or not, we need a military. The world is a messy place full of crackpot regimes and terrorists who wish us harm. That might seem obvious to most normal people with common sense, but your average campus leftist unironically thinks wanting to defend against such threats is perpetuating imperialism. If we accept the need for a military, we need to actually arm that military, preferably with cutting-edge high-quality technology that endows us with strategic superiority and thus deters potential enemies. In doing so we are not necessarily promoting war, we are ensuring strength so that if the unfortunate event of war occurs, we won’t be buried. I once overheard a conversation between two leftists at a café where one boasted that the “best thing to come out of Tory austerity was cuts to the military”. I could not be more appalled by such an attitude; we should be spending much much more on defence. Historically unprecedented reductions in our overall military capacity is a lamentable aspect of the Tory record this last decade. As we are seeing now in this pandemic, the army is so much more than just about war.

Second, the defence sector is vital for our economic success. As one of the last remnants of skilled manufacturing in this country, we should preserve the defence sector’s ability to churn out engineering talent and innovation. Defence exports are a welcome addition to our GDP and help balance Britain’s lopsided trade deficit. The question of human rights abuses committed by states we sell arms to is valid but more nuanced and complicated than leftivists make out. Thinking holistically, we cannot just cut off countries who don’t replicate our standards of governance, it’d be a lonely world if we did. There’s a great irony in organisations like Stop The War rebuffing liberal interventionist arguments for regime change on the one hand (a very wise position) but then invoking similar narratives to demonise BAE Systems for doing business with the Saudis. Restrictions on companies selling arms to states that are genocidal or unstable are reasonable but sacrificing hundreds of thousands of British jobs for absolutist moral pedestals is wrong. The global defence market is set to grow as countries develop and spend more on their armed forces. We can either be apart of that, encouraging good conduct in the process, or we can sit it out, giving up both influence and business to Russia and America because CULC finds explosions offensive.

The relationship between Cambridge University and British defence companies is an important source of funding for research which should be maintained. Students who want to work in the defence sector should not be bullied out of it, the Careers Service should afford defence companies the same platform it gives to any other law-abiding recruiter. Actions like those pursued by CUSU in trying to ban the Officer Training Corps or prohibit the display of safe unloaded firearms at Fresher’s Fair are the platitudes of a small minority being imposed on the majority.

Total “demilitarisation” is a silly utopian fantasy that will never happen in our lifetime. The next time a leftist talks about it, remind them of the League of Nations’ World Disarmament Conference, in which Hitler took part before invading most his neighbours later on.

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