Ethics & Foreign Policy: How do you legislate for the Jesus nut?

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One of the exciting new friends I’ve made contact is during my conference here is Charles Reed (who’s just started a blog). Charles describes himself as an an ecclesiastical civil servant.  His more officially known as the ‘Church of England’s’ foreign policy adviser. But the blog like most of our blogs from people like me (whom may have official positions in church) use the medium of blogging more to stimulate conversation and further thinking.

Anyway, Charles’ latest post also gives us a glimpse of what the Gothenburg Process is about.  I think he won’t mind me posting up the whole post.  But it will also illuminate what his title “How do you legislate for the Jesus Nut?” really means. Smile Welcome Charles to the Wild Wild Web!

For the last two days I’ve been participating in an expert seminar here in London on the arms trade. Its been a welcome break from trying to make sense of last week’s Strategic Defence Review. The seminar is the latest in a series of conversations stretching back to 2001 which now go under the name of the Gothenburg Process.

The Gothenburg Process was set up by a number of Swedish churches to highlight their growing concern regarding the increase in transfers of military equipment, primarily to the global south. The catalyst was the sale of Swedish Fighter Jets to South Africa.  

The Gothenburg Process is one of the more interesting ecumenical initiatives. It enables churches from around the world to maintain a structured dialogue with government and industry on the ethical issues surrounding the sale of conventional arms and small arms. It involves a small number of church experts both from arms exporting countries as well as from recipient countries.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of these conversations since the beginning. This reflects the Church of England’s long standing view that irresponsible arms transfers fuel conflict, poverty and human rights abuses.

Ivor Sikorsky takes to the air in 1939

The ‘Jesus nut’ is an interesting case example of some of the many challenges that still need to be overcome if we are to secure a more effective regulation of the trade in conventional arms and small arms.

The ‘Jesus nut’ is the castellated nut that secures the rotors on a helicopter. The term was coined in 1939 by Mr Dr. Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of the rotor wing aircraft. On the day that his helicopter took to the sky he is recorded as saying: “We better pray to Jesus that the nut holds the whole thing together.” The nut held and the name has stuck ever since.

There are many firms around the world that produce the ‘Jesus nut’. One of them, Rodmayne Engineering, is based here in the UK, in Hampshire. It supplies the ‘Jesus nut’ for the US Apache Helicopter, a helicopter that is exported by the US government to many countries around the world not all of whom have the best human rights records around. Before anyone begins writing to the company’s MD, Rodmayne Engineering is a reputable company and working entirely within the law.

The Apache Helicopter

The example of the ‘Jesus nut’ underlines, however, the difficulty that many governments face in regulating the manufacture and sale of conventional arms in today’s globalised world. Arms companies, operating from an increasing number of locations, now source components from across the world. Their products are often assembled in countries with lax controls on where they end up. Too easily, weapons get into the wrong hands. 

Each year, at least a third of a million people are killed directly with conventional weapons and many more die, are injured, abused, forcibly displaced and bereaved as a result of armed violence. Rapidly widening loopholes in national controls, including those that the UK government introduced in 2002 following the Arms to Iraq affairs, demonstrate how this globalised trade needs global rules. China’s sale of arms to Zimbabwe in 2008 illustrates the pitfalls of relying solely on national and regional codes of conduct to regulate the arms trade.

All of this highlights the importance of securing an effective and robust international Arms Trade Treaty. Governments have been discussing the ATT at the United Nations since 2006. Since then over two million people have died from armed violence. It is clear that the British Government has shown considerable leadership in the past in promoting the ATT but further efforts are needed to move the ATT discussions out of the slow lane. This is hopefully an area where churches with their global reach will increasingly make their voices heard.


About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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