For the last few years, peace groups in many countries have focussed attention on worldwide military expenditure with a Global Day of Action, which took place this week.

Hundreds of civil society groups draw attention to the way the world's $1.75 trillion military spending fuels and worsens conflict, and undermines social spending.

The UK has the fourth highest military spending in the world, behind only the USA, China and Russia. It also counts among the world's top seven arms exporters.

This arms trade is seen by politicians as an essential part of both Britain's industrial base and its place as a player on the world stage.

There is a government department, the Defence and Security Organisation [DSO], which gives expert advice on political and economic factors so that companies can target their products as effectively as possible. DSO employs 54% of all sector-specific staff in Britain's export support department - UK Trade and Investment.

High-profile visits maintain links with potential buyers. David Cameron toured the Gulf States in November, and Prince Charles Saudi Arabia in February co-incident with BAE signing a new deal with the Saudis.

Strong links are maintained with the military in countries who are potential buyers and between government and the industry.

Our recent ambassador to Saudi Arabia, having been involved in the decision to cancel an investigation into corrupt practices between Saudi authorities and BAE, left the foreign office to join BAE. Sales are world wide.

There is a European Common Position not to provide military equipment if it might be used for internal oppression or external aggression. But that of course is logical nonsense in a world of dictatorships, corrupt regimes and potential conflicts.

Thus, in recent years, equipment from the UK has been used by the Libyan government against its own people, by Bahrain to suppress opposition, and by Israel in attacks on Gaza.

The official justification for the level of support given to weapons exports revolves around the importance of this manufacturing sector and the jobs it provides. However, despite a subsidy of £700 million each year, military exports account for only 1.5% of Britain's total exports and provide only 55,000 direct jobs; 0.2 % of the UK workforce.

So this cannot be the full explanation. Perhaps as a nation we sell arms to the world because we have always done so. Well established weapons companies such as BAE Systems are not large by international business standards, but the web of relationships with government (the military-industrial complex) ensures a disproportionate influence.

And that feeds into an approach to the concept of security which focusses largely on militaristic issues rather than seeking to address problems which might lead to conflict.

Where can we look for an alternative approach, for something approximating to an ethical policy? There is little difference between the stated views of our mainstream political parties. It seems that the same would be true of an independent Scotland - the 'Scotland's Future' document foresees 'strong support' for defence industries.

And yet there are policies available - an end to the subsidy of weapons exports including closure of DSO; a more genuine control on sales which takes into account issues of human rights and regional stability; promotion of increased international regulation; conversion of some defence industry investment to other manufacturing sectors.

Each year, worldwide military expenditure amounts to 250 US dollars for every man, woman and child on earth. The profit goes to those who control arms trading.

The suffering is shared by the huge number of civilians caught up in armed conflict. It is time we as a nation took steps to reduce our contribution to this trade.