The moral responsibility of the arms industry in just war theory

  • Femi Richard Omotoyinbo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A bitter truth for the modern world is that, insofar as the earth exists, wars will persist. From a just war theory perspective, the persistence of wars may not necessarily be an issue. What matters is to manage and regulate activities, contributions, and participation in war towards the achievement of peace. And a potential tool for regulating activities and contributions in war is moral responsibility. So, taking moral responsibility as ‘liability’, I use this thesis to zoom in on the arms industry as a significant contributor to war. Thus, the main question is whether the arms industry can be liable to harm, liable for reparation, and liable to punishment due to its contributions to war. One of the difficulties surrounding this question is the identity of the arms industry as a non-combatant industry. According to the Principle of Non-combatant Immunity (PNCI), non-combatants are protected from attack in war because war is an activity between combatants, and not between combatants and non-combatants. However, a query for the PNCI is that there are non-combatants who make significant contributions to war, and I argue that the arms industry falls into that category. Thus, using moral and legal principles and theories within just war theory, I answer the research question in the affirmative, that the arms industry can be liable to harm, liable for reparation, and liable to punishment. Nonetheless, if some non-combatants can incur liability that affects their non-combatant status, then there are significant implications for the PNCI, including a redefinition of the PNCI to exclude certain persons or a re-categorisation of some contributors to war into a more apt category than the umbrella term of ‘non-combatants’.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 December 2028.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJeremy Watkins (Supervisor) & Keith Breen (Supervisor)


  • War ethics
  • just war theory
  • liability to harm
  • reparation
  • punishment
  • principle of non-combatant immunity
  • law of war

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