Arms can be developed and produced domestically; developed and produced collaboratively with other countries; produced domestically under license from the foreign firm or government that developed them; or by importing a finished weapon that was developed and produced elsewhere. Importing tends to be the cheapest, domestic development and production the most expensive. Because they are concerned with security of supply, governments foster a defence industrial base (DIB), a domestic arms industry. Governments fear that foreign producers may not be willing to re-supply in time of conflict or may charge high prices for spares and munitions once the importer is committed to the system. Protected by a preference for domestic supply, the national arms industry can become a political actor in its own right, a military industrial complex (MIC). Despite the preference for self-sufficiency, the vast cost of domestic development and production of major weapons systems means that countries often have no choice but to import, so there has developed a large trade in arms. International law and the UN charter give states rights to self defence and thus the right to import arms for their defence. This right means that there is nothing inherently unethical or immoral in the arms trade itself. Nonetheless, the arms trade does have an unsavoury reputation, hence the widespread use of the term ‘merchants of death’.
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