The arming of rebels has become one of the most popular ways in which a foreign state can project its foreign policy objectives in civil wars. Especially in what Mary Kaldor calls “new wars” – wars constituted by the disintegration of states and defined by a combination of organised violence and human rights abuses. The benefit is that the supplying state can seriously influence a conflict, while minimising or even eliminating risk to their own military forces. Having said that, scholars such as James Pattison alert us to the ethical dilemma of motives behind such an act of intervention. As Pattison states, the claim that motives matter is based upon a Kantian notion that those supplying arms should be doing so with the “right” motives – perhaps to put an end to human rights abuses or to overthrow a brutal dictator. Although history suggests that this is not always the true motive behind intervention. For spacial reasons, this brief does not include the armament of a group rebelling against an invading or occupying force.
Although this brief is largely specified, it directly connects to the larger, divisive dichotomy between military and humanitarian intervention. As this paper will demonstrate, the action of arming rebels has numerous direct and indirect causal effects on a conflict, that are likely to result in a grave escalation of violence. Such are the detrimental consequences this action is likely to have, it raises an ethical question as to whether arming rebels is really the last feasible option before a direct military intervention. Pattison calls this last resort a “presumptive” condition, since waging war itself should be the last option. To this end, the DIPCR argues that physically arming a rebel group has a higher level of immorality due to the severity of the potential consequences on civilians. In empowering rebel forces, the nature of the consequences is more unpredictable due to the lack of control over the group and the conflict by the supplying state (in our case the U.S.). In this scenario, the difference between doing and allowing for the conditions of suffering is subsequently not absolute, and therefore we propose that arming rebels is in itself a belligerent and immoral action, more so than military intervention.
It is therefore the essence of consequences that best ties the issue with the study of ethics. What the consequentialist takes into account when deciding whether an act is moral or immoral, are the consequences; the results of the action. This paper presents an opportunity for the consequentialist to explore whether the ends really do justify
the means with regards to arming rebels.
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