The Pope is here, if you haven’t noticed. I heard he is kinda of a big deal… As a former Catholic, I have mixed feelings about church doctrine, the papacy and its (alleged) privileged access to grace but I’m not going to get into that here. Instead, let’s talk about Pope Francis’s comments on Thursday concerning global arms sales.
While addressing Congress on his ongoing mission to “minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world,” Francis said the following:
Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
I agree with the Pope in principle. But in practice, the real world is a bit more complicated. The U.S. is indeed the biggest arms broker in the world. To give you an idea, domestic manufacturers sold more than $23.7 billion in arms in 2014 to over 100 countries.
While one can argue that some of those deals were questionable, selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia for example doesn’t exactly sit well with me, I’d like to believe that by and large the majority of our munitions fall into the hands of good global actors and not bad ones. Then again, I’m not really one to trust the government’s judgment when it comes to transferring weapons (Operation Fast and Furious ring a bell?), so maybe I’m being a bit naive with that presumption.
In any event, whether we are selling more guns to more good people than bad people is actually irrelevant to the larger question of global violence. I say that because even if the U.S. were to stop exporting firearms altogether, bad actors are still going to find ways to obtain arms (thanks to Russia, China, and others). We may be the biggest and the most influential, but our leaving the global arms party wouldn’t change a thing. Demand for munitions would remain, and Russia and China and other countries would just fill the void that we left behind.
Moreover, and this is the critical point to bear in mind, tanks by themselves don’t kill people, bombs by the themselves don’t kill people (that’s true for even smart bombs), guns by the themselves don’t kill people, it takes people to operate hardware. Yes, this is obvious. But it bears repeating in this context because the appeal the Pope should be making is to stop bad actors (despots, dictators, failed states, terrorists) from carrying out their violent agenda.
In short, the real battle were fighting is one of ideas. People don’t kill others simply because they have a gun in their hand. They do it typically for one of two reason (a) fear that if they don’t, they’ll be killed, or (b) they believe it’s the right thing to do, e.g. it’s the will of God or the will of an supreme leader.
So, with that said, our mission ought to be to liberate people from the shackles of malevolent religions, regimes and ideologies. I’ll let you read into that what you’d like. But it’s the truth. As we know from our experimentation with gun control in the U.S., when you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have em. Same would hold true on a global scale (which is why the U.N.’s Global Arms Trade Treaty is a complete joke). Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be more scrupulous on who we sell arms to, but at the same time, we need to be realistic about the limitations of this strategy.
Bottom line: If we want to end global conflict, the call to action should focus on freeing, educating and empowering people — not on hardware.
Anyways, that’s my $.02.
What are your thoughts about global arms trading? What are your thoughts on the Pope’s comments?