Of the books I’ve reviewed this year, the most somber, terrifying and menacing was The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein (Hamish Hamilton; reviewed in the Taipei Times Jan. 31). Not only does it give extensive information about private arms dealers — it also considers government involvement. It was reminiscent of the film The Lord of War, at the end of which the credits state that the planet’s biggest exporters of arms are the US, Russia, the UK, France and China — in other words, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It makes you think again about the kind of world we’re really living in.
Not necessarily an answer to the horror of the international arms trade, but nonetheless enormously fascinating as history, was the re-issue, finally in its complete form, of Victor Serge’s 1951 classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary (New York Review of Books; reviewed June 5). Serge joined the Bolsheviks for a time while remaining resolutely opposed to all terror tactics, not to mention being a life-long opponent of the death penalty. Later he was sentenced to internal exile, and was lucky to be released after protests from writers in the West, ending his life in Mexico. His wonderful autobiography makes for a substantial and very invigorating read.
Back in the modern world, but a long way from most people’s experience of it, was Colin Thubron’s To a Mountain in Tibet (Vintage; reviewed July 31). It describes his approach to, and circuit of, Mount Kailash, a mountain considered so sacred that no one has apparently ever been to its peak. Thubron is simultaneously skeptical and open to all impressions. The Tibetan way of death is everywhere evident, but Thubron, 73 at the time, soldiers on with one guide and one porter, and no doubt a very good pair of boots.
From Penguin came the paperback of Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (reviewed Nov. 27). In it, this distinguished professor revisits 14 European nations that no longer exist, and relates their destinies with considerable gusto. This is a continent, you quickly come to realize, that has been ruled and fought over by diverse dynasties for thousands of years, with men being willing to lay down their lives for “king and country” when the country, let alone the king, proves to be very much a temporary phenomenon. It’s a lesson that should be learned by us all.
Lastly, a book that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind is Taipei-resident Eric Mader’s Heretic Days: Writings from the Margins of Christianity (CreateSpace, reviewed Feb. 28). It’s simultaneously learned, wide-ranging and bizarre, combining considerations of topics as various as Leonard Cohen, William Blake, St Thomas’s Gospel and the necessity of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. It’s endlessly fascinating, but so far from my usual areas of interest that I can only put its lingering in my consciousness down to the stubborn persistence, in Mader at least, of human independence and resolution.
By PD Smith
In 2010, global military expenditure was $235 for every person on the planet. Greece apparently spends more on weapons than any other nation in the EU. Feinstein’s compelling book exposes the “parallel world of money, corruption, deceit and death” behind the trade in arms. In forensic detail (there are over 100 pages of notes and references), he reveals the symbiotic relationship that exists between governments and the defence industry, as well as cataloguing the appalling waste of public resources and corruption on a massive scale. One arms dealer tells Feinstein that with Saudi Arabian contracts he has to give back more than half of the price in bribes. Few people ever face justice because of the close relationship between governments and the companies. Feinstein accepts that in an uncertain world we need an arms industry, but its special status means that it is protected from legal and economic vagaries. Around the world, taxpayers are being ripped off and wars are being prolonged for profits. A powerful and important book.
Het op een na oudste beroep van de wereld: wapenhandel. Daarover praat Chris Kijne met Andrew Feinstein. Toen hij als parlementariër voor het ANC in Zuid-Afrika een corrupte wapendeal wilde onderzoeken, werd hij uit de partij gezet. Sindsdien volgt hij nauwgezet als journalist en activist de internationale wapenhandel, sprak met handelaren, volgende het spoor van criminelen en regeringsleiders en bracht met zijn boek ‘Handelaren des Doods’ de wereldwijde wapenhandel in beeld. Een boek over een zieke, corrupte wereld, die moorden mogelijk maakt, oorlogen blijft voeden, draait op geld en in stand wordt gehouden door criminelen , industriëlen en politiek leiders.
Volgens het Zweeds onderzoeksbureau Sipri is de internationale wapenhandel bijna weer op het niveau van de Koude Oorlog. Vorig jaar groeide de wapenhandel met 25 procent naar 30 miljard dollar. De Nederlandse wapenexport groeide met 22 procent naar 538 miljoen dollar (408 miljoen euro).
Feinstein beschrijft een schaduwwereld van illegale geldstromen en de schokkende verwevenheid van de zwarte handel met de officiële markten, overheden en ontwikkelingsorganisaties. De belangrijkste en enige drijvende kracht van de wapenhandel is geld, heel veel geld. Feinstein spreekt over miljarden waarmee handelaren aan de lopende band zeer invloedrijke mensen bij inlichtingendiensten, overheidsinstanties, NGO’s en politieke partijen omkopen. Deze gegevens maken wapenhandel volgens Feinstein ook zo ondoorzichtig. Ook verklaart het waarom er niets verandert; alle spelers hebben boter op hun hoofd, ook de politieke kopstukken.
De aanleiding voor het schrijven van het boek was de wapendeal die Feinstein bij toeval tegenkwam, in de tijd dat hij parlementslid was voor het ANC. Hij wilde de deal onderzoeken, maar dat mocht niet. Hij besloot af te treden. Het ging om een deal met wapens die niemand nodig had en waar geen geld voor was. Ook in die tijd was vooral geld nodig om HIV remmers te kopen en te verstrekken, maar in de wapenhandel lagen de miljoenen voor het oprapen en het ANC koos voor het laatste. Op deze manier werd partijpot gespekt en was goed gevuld in de verkiezingstijd.
Nederland staat in de top 10 van grootste wapenhandelaren ter wereld. Hoe corrupt zijn we en wat zijn de gevolgen van onze rol in de wapenhandel? Wat betekent het dat er smeergeld door onze banksystemen gaat? En waarom is Nederland en het kabinet Rutte nog steeds betrokken bij het JSF project. Wat wij volgens Feinstein moeten met het duurste gevechtsvliegtuig ooit gebouwd dat veel minder goed functioneert dan het vliegtuig dat vervangen wordt – is hem onduidelijk.
Feinsteins grote zorg: de wereldwijde corruptie wordt niet aangepakt, er zijn teveel belangen mee gemoeid. Feinstein pleit voor meer transparantie door officiële instanties, zodat burgers zelf kunnen kiezen of er geld wordt gespendeerd aan peperdure wapens.
Andrew Feinstein (1964) is journalist en activist. Hij is nog steeds Zuid Afrikaans staatsburger, maar woont in Engeland. Voor zijn boek reisde hij de wereld over om de sporen van de wapenhandel te volgen en met grote kopstukken te spreken. Hij is de auteur van After the Party, een boek over zijn tijd als parlementslid, dat bestseller werd. Zijn journalistieke werk verscheen onder andere in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times en Der Spiegel.
By Perry Munyon
Guns a-blazing, a well-informed South African nails the kingpins of the global arms trade
The title alone will grab you, once you’re cognizant of the fact that it is nonfiction. This is not a book about some guys straw-purchasing AR-15s, converting them to machine guns, and selling them to American survivalists or far-off rebels. This is the story of the big boys — the major (sometimes unknown) players working for or with the big guns at Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE and Boeing, to name a few. And it is an eye-opener.
Andrew Feinstein, a 47-year-old former South African politician, is the author of a previous work of nonfiction, “After the Party,” a memoir detailing his stint in the African National Congress and as a very vocal MP in the lower house of South Africa’s Parliament from 1997 until his resignation in 2001. His departure was prompted by the ANC’s denial of his request that they investigate the 1999 South African arms deal, a $4.8 billion weapons purchase from the United States that was rife with corruption allegations.
In “The Shadow World,” Mr. Feinstein takes on the global version of the arms trade going back to the beginning, to a very different world that existed just a century ago. A world that actually had some politicians, and many citizens, speaking from a moral high ground against war profiteers.
As Europe stumbled into World War I, lots of opportunists got very rich and planted seeds of darkness that produced an abundant harvest even they could not have foreseen. Mr. Feinstein lays out this groundwork but places particular attention to detail on the modern era in which all the biggest and costliest deals were and are going on all over the world right under our very distracted noses.
Just the materiel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Feinstein points out, cost us staggeringly large amounts of money: in 2004, procurement and supplemental budgets were at $7.2 billion. From then until 2010, $215 billion was budgeted and an additional $21.4 billion was requested for 2011. This is over and above the Department of Defense’s already gargantuan budget.
Africa is dealt with in great detail because it has been a playground of abuse for world powers for decades. Its stories are heartbreaking and horrifying.
Mr. Feinstein has taken on an immensely intricate tale with many players. Names such as Prince Bandar, Charlie Wilson, Helen Garlick, Charles Taylor, Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Darleen Druyun, along with the late John Murtha and his successor, Mark Critz. It’s the story of a 100 years of public and private wars (with guns and without), the powerful people moving the materiel across the global chessboard and unfathomable amounts of money changing hands.
The men and women involved were often shady or immoral, even if they weren’t doing anything overtly illegal (although they often were). Mr. Feinstein’s opinion comes through loud and clear throughout, but his opinion tends toward the aforementioned moral high ground of another era, when war profiteers, with no regard for the cost in human lives and money, were rightly scorned for their actions. His position, correctly, comes from the idea that there are things in this world that are right and things that are wrong. In this tale, many were caught and prosecuted but, sadly and infuriatingly, far too many weren’t, aren’t and won’t be.
This finely detailed, and sometimes dry, expose goes easy on no one, from President Obama to Sen. Mitch McConnell and Mr. Murtha, whom Mr. Feinstein refers to as one of the many hucksters who have worked hard to get their earmarks and make their deals for defense contracts for their respective districts, all while talking about the need for reform.
Mr. Feinstein’s tremendous work shows that we’re all players on some level, even if we’re just choosing ignorance and voting for someone just because he or she is pro-this or anti-that. Our elected representatives are acting in our name around the world, making deals with despots and arms manufacturers, paying off or taking payment, and the result being that far too many, as Mr. Feinstein has shown, have paid a high price, with money and blood. The global arms trade, “one of the most destructive and corrupting in human history,” he writes, “cannot be allowed to continue in its largely unregulated, unscrutinized current form.”
Everyone would do well to read this book and self-educate on what this world is all about, and then take some action in the voting booth.
In The Book of Merlyn, TH White’s beautiful, affecting coda to his masterpiece The Once and Future King, his aged King Arthur listens as a council of advisers tells him about humanity. The council is headed by his old tutor, Merlyn the magician, and its views on humanity are perhaps sharpened by the fact that the council members themselves are animals – an owl, a hedgehog, a snake, a goat, a badger and a dog. The question is what to call mankind, since the council has decided that homo sapiens is obviously inaccurate, and the label of homo ferox is suggested. When Arthur protests that surely man is not as ferocious as a tiger, he’s reminded: “Why, there is not a humble animal in England that does not flee from the shadow of man, as a burnt soul from purgatory.” Merlyn assures him, “It takes something, believe me, to be dreaded in all the elements there are.”
Andrew Feinstein’s new book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, is one long natural history of homo ferox; it would drive White’s King Arthur to tears, and it would make a believer out of him. It’s as profoundly depressing a book as you will read all year, for it’s not primarily about the pretty idea of evil but rather about something below it: the moneygrubbing sharks who supply evil with the tools it needs to do its work. Feinstein has done a great amount of investigation to bring the full details of this story to print, and we must thank him for it just as we thank the housing inspector who points out exactly where the rot has set in.
This is unpleasant but necessary reading, and it starts off as ferociously as possible. On January 6, 1999, forces of the Revolutionary United Front in civil war-torn Sierra Leone moved into Freetown intent on rape, plunder and murder (in accordance with their mission’s name, Operation No Living Thing). “What followed,” Feinstein writes, “was a two-day apocalyptic horror. Thousands of armed teenage soldiers, almost all of them wearing thick bandages on the side of the head where incisions had been made to pack crack cocaine under their skin, swarmed the city.” In less than two weeks of this apocalypse, hundreds of thousands of people were dispossessed, tens of thousands were maimed or abducted, and six thousand were murdered. Before striking, the RUF had waited for the arrival of extra arms and equipment from neighboring Liberia. “The arms trade did not cause this barbarism,” Feinstein allows, “but it facilitated and fuelled it.”
It’s too nice a point, and Feinstein must be aware that his own book doesn’t support it. Consider the impatient waiting the RUF did; hard-eyed men pacing on warehouse loading docks, ready to hand out foreign-made rifles to bored soldiers of death – that waiting has been done by countless such militia in countless countries in every century of the modern era. In every one of those instances, violence, rape and murder waited on the delivery schedules of the arms trade. That “shadow world” is guilty of a lot more than facilitation.
As Feinstein explains, his use of the term “shadow world” is meant to apply to the so-called grey market of covert arms dealing and the black market of illegal arms dealing; he admits that the open and above-board arms market between nations has always been in some measure a legitimate thing. The focus of his years of research and his thousands of pages of notes is rather the illegitimate side of the issue, the countries and agencies trafficking in arms without any legal mandate, or in defiance of international agreements. All countries and governments need arms to defend themselves and their citizens, we’re assured, but there are channels and procedures for the buying and trading of such arms – there’s an industry that can and should be regulated. By contrast, the villains in this scenario are the governments and government agents who make illegal arms deals (usually for staggering amounts of money), indifferent to the vast amounts of human suffering that always results from such deals.
For Americans reading Feinstein’s book, the sheer speed with which the names of President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney come up in this context will be nothing short of sickening. The book’s second paragraph has Bush meeting in 2002 with Prince Bandar, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, to discuss the president’s determination to invade Iraq despite the United Nations’ assurances that Saddam Hussein didn’t possess weapons of mass destruction.
There are many other big players in Feinstein’s account of this shadow world. The name of the British arms company BAE crops up often, and Russia and China, and their various satellite states, are very much involved. But as the pages fly by (Feinstein is an extremely readable writer), the reader inescapably reaches two conclusions: that there is no practical difference between black, grey and open weapons markets, and that if you look closely enough into virtually any arms deal of any kind conducted in the last 50 years, you’ll find the United States with at least a couple of fingers in the pie. As an account of the international arms trade, Feinstein’s book is smart and up-to-date; as an indictment of US corruption, it’s one of the most damning documents since Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
In 1976, the Clark Amendment prohibited the transfer of arms from the US to Angola, where President Gerald Ford had been clandestinely arming the Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (Unita). In 1985 the Clark Amendment was repealed and the Reagan administration flooded Unita with aid and arms, a stream of US aid that Feinstein calls “the second-largest in its history, bettered only by US support for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan”. Unita’s only bigger supporter was the apartheid government of South Africa.
In the 1980s, the US supplied massive amounts of military aide to Sudan, Feinstein writes, “despite its atrocious human rights record for a period until the late 1980s”. The US also spent billions per year shoring up Hosni Mubarak: “Between 1981, when Mubarak took power, and 2010, Egypt has spent a total of US$28.4 billion on military equipment. By far the largest supplier has been the US; its $21.7 billion in sales constitutes just under 75 per cent of all arms purchased by Egypt since Mubarak assumed office.” That military equipment included riot control gear, body armour and tear gas – spent canisters and shells littering Tahrir Square earlier this year were labelled “Made in the USA” and manufactured by a company in Pennsylvania that also manufactures tear gas used by Israeli forces in Gaza. And so on ad nauseum. Time and again, Feinstein traces the business dealings of one US company or another, through all the levels of their dealings with the government in what Feinstein calls the MICC – military-industrial-Congressional complex, his “iron triangle” – and time and again, he comes to the same conclusion: “this is damning proof of the lawlessness of the American arms trade”.
“Those who operate in the shadow world are often used as agents, brokers and middlemen by the companies of the formal trade,” Feinstein tells us, trying to draw some distinctions between the two sides of his equation. “While the monetary value of the shadow trade might be small in comparison to the formal trade, its role in keeping formal prices high is crucial. So too is its ability to fuel, grow and prolong conflicts which ultimately provide new markets for the formal trade.” But it all becomes one toxic soup in the end, with consequences that affect every single person on Earth – fundamental consequences, as Feinstein puts it: “The diminution of democracies where they exist, and the entrenchment of undemocratic, often barbarous states.”
Administrations may change, but homo ferox, it seems, is here to stay.
Steve Donoghue is managing editor of Open Letters Monthly.
With defense budgets soaring, the human cost of military expenditures is becoming disturbingly apparent. Feinstein’s latest is an attempt to expose the corruption of the defense industry and the global arms trade, centered around British company BAE Systems and American defense contractor Lockheed Martin. One of the founding codirectors of London-based CorruptionWatch, Feinstein (After the Party) examines historical factors in the industry, from post-WWII Nazi arms-dealers to the impact on trade of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Through investigative transcripts, Feinstein illuminates strained international relations, government commissions, and trade complexities. He outlines business secrets and political pressures, as well as ongoing efforts to quell “the systemic ‘legal bribery’ that is the US arms business.” Feinstein proffers some potentially effective but perhaps overly optimistic solutions, such as greater transparency and harsher sanctions. Immensely detailed and informative, Feinstein’s timely book is engaging and challenging.
By Charl du Plessis
If those who brokered South Africa’s arms deals had done so in a completely honest manner, had not accepted a single bribe and always had the best interests of the population at heart, it would have represented a substantial breach of the time-honoured and well-observed best practices of the global arms industry.
We didn’t really stand a chance.
Former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein’s new book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, is a meticulously researched insight into the rampant corruption, noxious dealings and ethical poverty that mark the international arms trade, worth about $1.6-trillion last year.
Feinstein, famous for his forced resignation as an ANC MP over exposing corruption in the South African arms deal, in this book unravels the effect the arms industry has on global affairs, its human cost and its apparent immunity to justice.
Some of the leading figures in the trade make South Africa’s own arms deal beneficiaries look like recalcitrant choirboys.
One example is Prince Bandar of the Saudi royal family, the facilitator of some of the world’s biggest arms deals between Saudi Arabia and the West. He received a £75-million Airbus jet painted in the colours of the Dallas cowboys as a “gift”. This was over and above the £1-billion that was paid into his accounts.
Then there’s the Ukranian-Israeli, Leonid Minin, who became one of despot Liberian president Charles Taylor’s biggest gun-runners, in exchange for blood diamonds. Theatrically, Minin was eventually arrested in an Italian hotel, surrounded by four naked prostitutes, uncut diamonds worth $500000 and $35000 in cold currency.
Aside from examining the lives of such players, Feinstein details the machinations of the global industry; how loopholes in treaties and conventions are navigated by even “legitimate” companies, such as British BAE, which also sold South Africa fighter jets, to win contracts for arms deals.
Paying “commissions” or “consultation fees” to those in power is par for the course. He explains the “revolving door” between governments, defence departments and the arms industry, particularly in the US, still the world’s largest global arms dealer.
“The tragic reality is that arms companies, large and small, and arms dealers and agents get away with corruption and bribery on a massive scale,” writes Feinstein.
In a section of the book aptly titled “Killing Fields”, Feinstein recounts the shocking humanitarian costs of the global arms trade in countries like Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia and Angola.
Rwanda, for instance, spent 70% of its annual state budget on arms in the four years leading to the 1994 genocide that would see between 800000 and 1.174 million people slaughtered and between 100000 and 250000 women raped, writes Feinstein.
Despite the intricate web of connected “shell companies”, legislation and complex international affairs the book deals with, The Shadow World is simply written and coloured with personal observations, a hint of sarcasm and Feinstein’s own single-mindedness in bringing to light rampant corruption in arms dealings.
The Shadow World is not, however, likely to provide light reading on the beach during the holiday season.
Its 103 pages of notes and references are evidence that it is more of an academic endeavour, which deals with a serious subject.
It is clear that Feinstein’s own brush with the arms trade as a member of parliament’s standing committee on public accounts, from which he was eventually forced to resign for pursuing an investigation of our own arms deals, has left him with a single-minded sense of purpose.
“While the fate of the brave and committed anti-corruption officials … is usually to be fired, to leave their jobs in frustration, to face professional marginalisation, even exile, they, like me, cling to the hope that the truth will ultimately out,” Feinstein writes.
By John Lloyd
This is a book about the arms trade, in which a plethora of details are set to work to expose what Andrew Feinstein calls “a world of money, corruption, deceit and death”. More than most campaigners against the trade, Feinstein has taken the moral high ground in action as well as print.
Elected as an African National Congress MP in 1997, he demanded a thorough inquiry into the massive arms contracts given by the South African government to British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish companies, aimed at modernising the country’s ageing defence equipment. The contracts – which Feinstein says were for ships, aircraft and weaponry that South Africa, a country with no external threat, did not need – were widely said to have prompted a shower of large bribes. Alleged recipients included President Jacob Zuma, who was charged, while he was deputy president, with numerous counts of fraud and corruption related to the deal. These charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority in April 2009: the authority argued there were “serious flaws” in the prosecution’s handling of the case. In May 2009, Zuma was elected president.
Feinstein sought to bring this into the light but was blocked and resigned his seat. He has since made exposing corruption in the trade his life’s work – founding, two years ago, the NGO Corruption Watch with fellow campaigner Susan Hawley. The Shadow World is the work of a knowledgeable, committed and angry activist who has in his sights, above all, the US and UK governments and their weapons manufacturers – in particular the UK’s BAE Systems.
Fittingly, he begins with a quotation from Bernard Shaw’s 1905 play Major Barbara, in which the arms manufacturer Andrew Undershaft proclaims that “when I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need”. It was Eisenhower who famously expressed disquiet, on leaving office, at the power of his “military industrial complex”. But both before and after him, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers have discovered, sometimes the hard way, that when a substantial part of industry and employment is accounted for by weapons companies, these companies’ wants cannot be ignored.
This realisation can come reluctantly, as with Eisenhower, or enthusiastically, as with George W Bush, whose main cabinet colleagues were closely allied to the arms lobby; or it can come real-politically, such as when Tony Blair vetoed a 2006 Serious Fraud Office investigation into an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Feinstein is good at sketches of the latter-day Undershafts and their agents, a varied and sometimes vividly eccentric bunch. One of the world’s most successful arms manufacturers was Marcel Dassault, interned by the Nazis and – though Jewish – offered liberty in return for working for them. He refused and was sent to Buchenwald but was saved by the arrival of the Allied military and returned to France to build the Mirage, one of the most successful fighters of its time – as well as one of the world’s (still) leading defence companies. On the other hand, Gerhard Mertins, a former Wehrmacht major, was an active go-between for 1950s Arab leaderships seeking arms, founding a company, Merex, which benefited hugely from arms contracts with countries as diverse as Venezuela, Pakistan and (to show even-handedness) India.
The reasons for the existence of this business are largely assumed to be as rotten as it gets: there is little credit here for politicians who claimed to have launched “good” wars. Two chapters, “In defence of humanity” and “Bringing Peace to the world”, are ironic about the proclaimed aims of governments that promoted humanitarian interventions: Feinstein, at least implicitly, tends to see them as occasions for corporate enrichment and more corruption.
A rounded narrative of the arms trade needs a fuller account of the constraints on politicians and the compromises they feel bound to make. Yet in documenting some of their more egregious and dirty deals and deliberate blindnesses, he has done a large service.
John Lloyd is an FT contributing editor
By Stefan Vermeulen
Andrew Feinstein, voormalig parlementslid namens het ANC in Zuid-Afrika, deed ruim tien jaar lang onderzoek in de wereld van de internationale wapenhandel. Follow The Money sprak met hem.
Handelaren des Doods heet het boek dat Feinstein schreef naar aanleiding van zijn langdurige onderzoek, en dat deze week uitkomt. (Engelse titel: The Shadow World, Inside Global Arms Trade.) Het boek geeft een zeer onthullende inkijk in de wereld van de grote wapendeals. In 2010 werd wereldwijd 1,6 biljoen dollar aan wapens uitgegeven, 40 procent van de wereldwijde corruptie komt voor rekening van de wapenhandel.
Bloedige conflicten, zoals de oorlogen op de Balkan en – meer recent – in Libië zijn uiteindelijk terug te voeren op grote Westerse bedrijven, die vaak via schimmige tussenhandelaren de wapens leverden. In veel gevallen aan meerdere strijdende partijen.
Met een lange lijst voorbeelden toont Feinstein de intieme relaties aan tussen regeringen, producenten en tussenhandelaren. Zo was de zoon van Margaret Thatcher volgens Feinstein ooit betrokken bij het op grote schaal leveren van Britse wapens aan Saoedi-Arabië en werkte de inmiddels veroordeelde handelaar Viktor Bout tussen 2003 en 2005 nog doodleuk voor de Amerikaanse overheid, terwijl er toen al een internationaal arrestatiebevel liep tegen de Rus.
Feinstein begon zijn onderzoek nadat hij als parlementslid ontdekte dat zijn partij, het ANC, een onderzoek naar corruptie bij een grote wapendeal in Zuid-Afrika tegenhield. Eind jaren negentig had de ANC-geleide regering een grote deal gesloten met de Zweedse vliegtuigbouwer Saab, terwijl andere partijen goedkoper leken te kunnen leveren. Tijdens een ontmoeting in het Amsterdamse hotel Ambassade vertelt Feinstein zijn verhaal.
Wanneer dacht u voor het eerst: dit moet ik onderzoeken?
Feinstein: “Eind jaren negentig ontving ik als parlementslid een rapport waarin de mogelijke bewijzen van corruptie bij die wapendeal uiteengezet werden. Ik wist meteen: dit is een gigantisch issue, dat allerlei politieke consequenties moet krijgen. Maar toen ik de zaak daarna wilde uitpluizen, werd ik door mijn eigen partij onder druk gezet om het onderzoek te stoppen, tot de toenmalige president (Thabo Mbeki, red.) aan toe. Dat was kort na het kerstreces van 2000. Toen realiseerde ik mij dat als ik hiermee door zou gaan, dat het einde van mijn politieke carrière zou betekenen. Ik ben toen vast begonnen met het kopiëren van allerlei belangrijke documenten, want ik accepteerde mijn lot. In augustus 2001 verliet ik het parlement, kort voordat de partij mij er zelf uit kon gooien.”
Uw boek heet The Shadow World. Wat bedoelt u daarmee?
“Het is een wereld waar je heel moeilijk doorheen kijkt, omdat alles gebeurt onder een deken van geheimhouding. Zogenaamd vanwege de nationale veiligheid. De wapenhandel is ook jarenlang nauwelijks een politiek issue geweest. Ik geloof dat veel wapenbedrijven en zelfs illegale wapenhandelaren beschermd werden door hun eigen overheid. Om die wereld als buitenstaander te penetreren is heel moeilijk. De reden dat het mij wel gelukt is, is dat ik als parlementariër al betrokken was bij deze onderzoeken. Ik had de documenten – er zitten tussen de 2500 en 3000 voetnoten in het boek. Veel bronnen kwamen ook naar mij toe, mensen die in de wapenhandel werkten bijvoorbeeld.”
Maar wat maakt die handel dan zo schimmig?
“Dat komt door de manier waarop de sector gestructureerd is. Het is onvermijdelijk. Er zijn geen duizenden transacties, het gaat om een paar grote deals per jaar, die tientallen miljarden dollars waard zijn. Dus bedrijven zijn wanhopig die deals binnen te slepen. En er is een zeer klein aantal mensen dat de politieke beslissingen neemt. Een half dozijn mensen beslist vaak over miljarden dollars. Voor producenten is het dus aanlokkelijk om die beslissers veel geld te betalen om een deal binnen te slepen. En daar komt die verplichte geheimhouding nog bij. Dat is een vruchtbare bodem voor corruptie. Bovendien zijn de meeste wapenbedrijven zeer close met hun overheid, het is een kleine gesloten club die de kennis onder elkaar houdt. Als juridische consequenties dreigen, wordt men beschermd. En veel van de tussenhandelaren worden door overheden gezien als belangrijke bron van informatie, kijk maar naar het geval Viktor Bout.”
Veel mensen willen toch dat hun overheid ze met de aankoop van wapens beschermt? Ik denk bijvoorbeeld dat veel Amerikanen de afgelopen tien jaar geloofden dat ze er veiliger door werden.
“Inderdaad. Maar wat ik probeer te laten zien, is dat precies de veiligheid die overheden wereldwijd zeggen te vergroten, juist wordt ondermijnd. Ze kopen heel vaak wapens die voor het betreffende conflict niet geschikt zijn, deals gaan miljoenen dollars over het budget en het duurt vaak tientallen jaren voordat de bestelde wapens daadwerkelijk geleverd worden.”
Zijn alle grote deals corrupt?
“Ik heb er nu elf jaar onderzoek naar gedaan. En ik moet de eerste deal nog tegenkomen waarbij geen vorm van illegaliteit voorkomt. Corruptie, omkoping, ondermijning van het officiële inkoopproces, overtreding van overheidsregels – ik heb nog niet één transactie gezien waarmee niets mis was. Bij de Zuid-Afrikaanse deal zorgde de minister van Defensie er onder de tafel voor dat Saab en het Britse BAE Systems het contract kregen. Kort daarop werd diezelfde minister directeur bij een bedrijf dat een groot contract bij BAE binnensleepte, waarmee hij in één klap 30 miljoen rand verdiende. Ik ben meer van dat soort vormen van corruptie tegengekomen.”
Bent u geschrokken van wat u tegenkwam?
“Door mijn ervaringen in Zuid-Afrika wist ik hoe ernstig de situatie was. Dus ik was niet verrast door het niveau van de corruptie en ik was ook niet verrast hoe misleidend sommige mensen waren. Maar wat me wel heel erg verraste: de manier waarop de formele, door overheden geleide, handel samenviel met de wereld van de illegaliteit. Ik realiseerde me eerder niet dat ze zo enorm verweven waren.”
Ik kan me voorstellen dat veel mensen niet blij waren met uw onderzoek.
“Nee. Ik toerde hiervoor door de Verenigde Staten om mijn boek te promoten, en in de Midwest begonnen enkele interviewers van kleine rechtse radiostations het gesprek met de boodschap: ‘Mijn lezers haten wat je geschreven hebt. En ik ook’. Maar verder ontving ik niet veel negatieve reacties. Mensen waren in het algemeen verbaasd en geschokt door de cijfers.”
En tijdens uw research?
“De meeste mensen die ik benaderde wilden niet praten, maar er waren er genoeg die dat wel wilden. Klokkenluiders binnen wapenbedrijven, handelaren. De meesten off the record. Ook een paar van de grootste handelaren werkten mee. Ze rechtvaardigen vrijwel altijd hun bezigheden op een bijna sociopathische manier: alsof ze geen besef hebben van de impact van hun handel.”
“Neem de van oorsprong Libanese wapenhandelaar Joe der Hovsepian, een man van in de zeventig die ik ontmoette in Beiroet. Jarenlang een zeer grote speler in de markt. Hij denkt echt dat hij de wereld veel goeds gebracht heeft. Hij zei: ‘Ik heb de krachtelozen bewapend om vrede in hun land te brengen’. Dat is nonsens natuurlijk, maar het zegt veel. Ze rechtvaardigen wat ze doen, want hoe kunnen ze anders met zichzelf leven? Uiteindelijk verkopen ze aan iedereen die genoeg betaalt.”
Bent u cynisch geworden?
“Ik weet niet of cynisch het juiste woord is. Ik ben wel boos geworden op de staat van de wereldpolitiek. De wapenhandel laat de slechtste aspecten zien van de interactie tussen zakenleven en politiek. Toen ik de eerste versie van mijn boek af had en in mijn kantoor ‘s avonds laat het concept zat te lezen, werd ik weer boos. Maar het motiveert me ook. Mensen zeggen dat je er niets tegen kan doen… Maar ik denk dat dat wel kan. Door te laten zien wat er gebeurt, hoeveel miljarden wereldwijd in de wapenhandel verdwijnen en wat daarvan de bloedige consequenties zijn.”
By Paul Rogers
Arms manufacturers do particularly well when they sell to both sides. Even better is when one side uses lots of expensive weaponry to destroy the other’s. That way the arms dealer can make decent profits re-vamping the victor’s arsenals. On very rare occasions things turn out even better, especially if the loser gets deposed and the new regime buys weapons from the very same companies.
Libya was a classic case, starting with several European arms companies doing very well from the Gaddafi regime in the 2000s after it had come in from the cold and went on a buying spree. This carried on right through to the start of the rebellions early this year. Indeed, even as the street protests started in Benghazi in March, French and Italian contractors were still upgrading Libyan army and air force equipment. Just a few days later, much of it was being targeted and destroyed by NATO strike aircraft and submarine-launched missiles.
Now the war is over, NATO will replenish its depleted stocks and the new Libyan government will be only too keen to buy from the same sources. Nor are the sums small. The RAF fired 60 Brimstone anti-armour missiles in the first month, at a cost of £175,000 each, and also used the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile at £790,000 a time. Weapon replacement costs for the UK alone are likely to be around £140 million and oil-rich Libya will be a cinch for decent contracts as it replaces all the equipment lost in NATO’s 9,600 raids against 5,000 targets.
This hidden side to the Libyan war is one of the most graphic recent examples of the workings of the arms trade, a worldwide industry worth somewhere between $35 and $55 billion: trade that rarely comes under sustained scrutiny. It is true that the last decade has seen a range of good academic books on arms transfers, and throwing light on this singularly murky trade has also been a consistent aim of a few campaigning groups, most notably the Campaign against the Arms Trade.
Even so, one thing that has been missing has been a comprehensive book for the more general reader, along the lines of Anthony Sampson’s The Arms Bazaar, back in the late 1970s. Andrew Feinstein’s The Shadow World does just this, and in some ways it is even better than Sampson’s influential volume. What is particularly useful is the very unusual combination of a thoroughly readable book that also provides a quite extraordinary range of sources – some 2,500 footnotes in all.
Partly because of his experience as an ANC member of parliament in post-apartheid South Africa, Feinstein pays particular attention to the African dimension, writing with a powerful combination of passion and knowledge. His analysis of the South African arms deals with the UK, Sweden and Germany, much through BAE Systems, is particularly revealing. This is just one part of an impressive book that ranges widely over the whole field of arms sales, placing it in the context of the development of major companies through to the present day.
One of his most revealing accounts is of the extraordinary money-making that went on during the war in Iraq and still continues in Afghanistan. As spending reached record levels from 2005 through to 2009, so did the share prices of the manufacturers, with BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman all hitting their peaks in 2008. The war on terror really has been exceptionally good for business.
Throughout The Shadow World, Feinstein emphasises the sheer corruption of the whole process, pointing to the enticements and kick-backs, always overshadowed by the ubiquitous use of “commission” and “agents”, as though the distancing of corruption through intermediaries somehow makes it more acceptable. What he seeks to do is open up perhaps the greatest international can of worms of the current era, but this is inevitably an area replete with rumour and all too often affected by conspiracy theories that divert attention from the reality of trading in death.
This is where the value of this book really lies. Feinstein has worked with two researchers, Paul Holden and Barnaby Pace, and many other collaborators, and has succeeded in writing a book that analyses the international arms market with a level of detail and a degree of referencing that may well be unique – what you rarely find in a book aimed at a wide readership. The end result is a kind of hybrid: something close to a work of reference combined with a gripping and sometimes amazing piece of story-telling.
The arms trade spreads its tentacles far and wide, ensnaring politicians in a web of malpractice that rarely comes to light. Feinstein’s book is a singularly powerful study, and deserves to be read by anyone who wants to see light shining on such a shadowy world.
Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University
By Robert Baer
How the multibillion-dollar global arms market is built on graft
Writing about the arms business isn’t easy. Weapons merchants, large and small, legal or illegal, hide their business behind numbered accounts, shell companies based in tax-haven islands, and middlemen who’ve learned to keep quiet. The arms dealers operate in distant places like Kiev or Sofia, beyond the rule of law and scrutiny. They live in Monte Carlo or Liechtenstein, where journalists aren’t welcome. They give interviews only after they’ve been caught red-handed, and even then will just maintain their innocence.
With The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, Andrew Feinstein peers into this murky realm and sheds light on one of the world’s biggest and least regulated markets. Much of his insight stems from his experience in South Africa’s parliament. In 1999 he witnessed firsthand, as the ranking member of the African National Congress on the parliament’s Committee on Public Accounts, how the British arms company BAE Systems and the Swedish conglomerate Saab beat out their less expensive Italian competition in the sale of jet fighters to South Africa. The venal South African leadership ignored its own technical committee and bought the BAE-Saab aircraft—which South Africa ultimately found too expensive to maintain. Feinstein left parliament and started writing, with no shortage of acid in his pen.
Feinstein does not let up on the merchants of death, regularly reminding us that arms-related corruption is a global cancer, affecting everyone from America’s defense giants to Africa’s poorest countries. If Transparency International’s estimate that the arms trade accounts for 40 percent of world corruption is correct, Feinstein could hardly have found a more worthy target. He is also right that the West has turned a blind eye to the situation. There is simply too much political money tied to defense contracts to force politicians to demand accountability. Feinstein repeatedly asserts that we know enough about how these deals work to stop them. It’s only because of an absence of will—or a consent of silence—that we don’t.
Feinstein says the unregulated arms market is fundamentally immoral. Arms dealers such as the recently convicted Russian smuggler Viktor Bout, he says, have earned a special place in hell by fueling Africa’s conflicts and facilitating the slaughter of innocents. Such castigation is deserved—and uncontroversial. Where I most see eye to eye with Feinstein is the issue of Saudi Arabia’s egregiously corrupt arms deals. I’ve written on corruption in Saudi Arabia myself and have yet to hear of any credible effort to clean up arms purchases there.
Saudi royals are wealthy people. But the sizable government allowances they receive don’t begin to cover their lavish lifestyles, which include yachts, Kensington mansions, and private jets. So the royals have been forced to seek supplemental income. And the serious money comes from arms deals, where they collect substantial, unreported commissions.
Feinstein pays special attention to Al Yamamah, the infamous arms-for-oil deal signed by Britain and Saudi Arabia in 1985. BAE, the prime contractor, would net more than $50 billion in revenue from the deal over the next 20 years. On the face of it, the exchange made perfect sense: Saudi Arabia was too small a country to produce its own weapons, and Britain needed more oil than it was pumping out of the North Sea. The abuses, as Feinstein reveals, arose from the vast slush funds packaged into Al Yamamah. The funds were paid out at the discretion of BAE and certain Saudi princes. According to British and American investigators, the money ended up in the pockets of the princes and middlemen. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, reportedly got a $17 million dollar house and an Airbus A340 out of the deal.
The Saudis soon realized that the BAE fighters they had received were nearly useless. They had faulty radar. They were grounded by sand. In the mid-’90s, then-Crown Prince Abdullah pushed hard to cancel Al Yamamah. Yet not only was Al Yamamah not canceled, there was a 2007 follow-up deal called Al Salam, which covered the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh. As with Al Yamamah, BAE acted as prime contractor. The irony, Feinstein points out, is that Saudi Arabia doesn’t need the Typhoons. Designed for Cold War dogfights over Europe, the jets would be of little use if Saudi Arabia were to fight Iran, which would likely resort to rocket attacks, or to counter an insurgency spilling over its borders from Yemen.
After the Gulf War in 1991, U.S. advisers assessed Saudi military performance against the Iraqis. They were astonished to learn that, although the Saudis had purchased a fleet of M60 tanks, they bought almost no oil filters, which must be constantly changed in desert warfare. The tanks might as well have stayed in garrison. What had happened was clear: There were commissions to be made in the purchase of the tanks—but none from filters. The consequences of such corruption are far-reaching and sobering. Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s largest reserve tanks for crude oil. That means that the only things standing between us and a $250 barrel of oil—or whatever crude might go for if there’s a war in the Gulf—are tanks without filters and planes that don’t fly.
Saudi Arabia isn’t the only regime in which corruption undermines the military. As Libyan opposition forces captured Tripoli this year, it was discovered that 20,000 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles had disappeared, looted from Libyan military stocks during the fighting. Aside from the immediate question about where these missiles went, why didn’t the Libyans fire them at the NATO jets? One explanation I’ve heard from a former CIA colleague is that the Libyan military let the batteries go bad in the desert heat. Another is that Libyan troops didn’t know how to use them. In either case, Muammar Qaddafi was in possession of weaponry that protected neither his regime nor his country from attack. It’s reasonable to assume that the Libyan SA-7 missiles came attached with enormous commissions for the dealmakers.
I wish Feinstein had spent more time talking to policymakers about why they ignored corrupt arms deals and less time researching a laundry list of deals, many of which are well known. When I was in the CIA, I encountered hundreds of crooked arms deals, mostly originating in Russia and Eastern Europe. The CIA simply didn’t have the resources to pursue them. Feinstein tries to make the case that the West is in a position to put an end to this merry-go-round and prosecute companies such as BAE that pay enormous commissions by selling expensive arms to countries that don’t need them. But his optimism fails to consider how intractable and widespread arms-related corruption is. If someone as powerful as King Abdullah can’t put a stop to corruption in his own country, how can the West?
A highly pertinent, deeply damning indictment of the flourishing of the world’s “second-oldest profession.”
Global military expenditure was priced at $16.2 trillion in 2010—“$235 for every person on the planet,” writes South African journalist and former ANC member of Parliament Feinstein (After the Party: Corruption, the ANC and South Africa’s Uncertain Future, 2009). The trade in conventional arms, the legitimate tool of government (as opposed to weapons of mass destruction), engenders a secretive world, mainly due to enormous profits and the advance of nefarious political aims. The author focuses on the black market as well as the so-called grey market, where the government is involved “through legal channels, but undertaken covertly.” He methodically examines the construction of the global military-industrial complex, including the breakup of the British arms trade after World War II, exemplified by British Aerospace’s (now BAE Systems) courting of Saudi contracts, and the inroads of the Americans in the early ’60s. After the war, the Americans had incorporated many key ex-Nazis into the West German intelligence service—e.g., Reinhard Gehlen and Gerhard Mertins, who secured beneficial arms deals for the U.S. and Germany. Feinstein looks closely at Margaret Thatcher and BA’s deal with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in the mid ’80s; and the pernicious legacy of Lockheed Martin and middlemen John Murtha, Charlie Wilson and Adnan Khashoggi. The author sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as key in changing the way arms dealers did business, since small, fractured states became the new clientele of rapacious dealers, from Croatia to Africa to Pakistan. He also provides portraits of the crusading investigators who have pursued these criminal cases—e.g., Helen Garlick of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.
The detail is occasionally overwhelming, but Feinstein’s book is sound, timely and invaluable. Diligent readers will be rewarded.
There’s a memorable sequence at the start of the 2005 Hollywood blockbuster Lord Of War which shows a bullet’s-eye view of a bullet’s life cycle, from a manufacturing plant through various intermediaries until it ends up in the head of an African civilian via the chamber of a Kalashnikov.
The message is clear: arms don’t come from nowhere. From factory to gun, there is a path that is easy to trace for anyone with the will so to do.
The lord of war played by Nicolas Cage in the film was partly based on the life of alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, aka “the merchant of death”, who made his name by using his air freight company to bust arms embargoes in African states such as Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Another Hollywood film, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, connected up the dots between the illegal diamond trade and international gun-running.
Despite their lurid celebrity, these masters of war are rarely prosecuted. Bout was finally arrested after a sting operation in Thailand in 2008 when he offered to sell weapons to US DEA agents posing as members of the Colombian marxist group FARC. He had been under the protection of Russian oligarchs, who were furious when their man was arrested and put pressure on the Thai authorities not to allow his extradition. It took two years and the personal intervention of President Barack Obama to get him to America, where he was found guilty last week .
It may be that Bout’s capture was only made possible by Hollywood. Had it not been for the publicity generated by these films, it’s unlikely that the President himself would have been involved. In Lord Of War, it was suggested that the main character’s immunity arose from his being a US intelligence “asset” and, indeed, Feinstein claims that an attempt by the Belgian authorities to arrest Bout in Athens in 2002 was foiled when US intelligence sources tipped him off.
Fact is indeed stranger than fiction, which is good news for Hollywood, but bad news for the future of world peace. If it takes a multi-million dollar film before any of these people is arrested, then God help Africa. Mind you, there is enough in Feinstein’s book for a dozen film pitches. Bizarre characters leap from the page – like Adnan Khashoggi, confidant of royalty, who claimed to be the wealthiest man in the world and whose yacht, Nabila, was used in the Bond film Never Say Never Again. Then there is Dale Stoeffel, a US arms adventurer and ex special forces agent in the Bruce Willis mould, who stood to make a killing out of the war in Iraq but was himself killed in 2004 after he crossed members of the provisional Iraqi government. Yoshio Kodoma, aka “The Monster”, worked closely with US arms companies as they bribed and bought their way to the heart of the Japanese government.
But the grand-daddy of them all was the Al Yamamah arms deal, the biggest in the world, negotiated personally by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the Saudi Royal family in 1985. It was an arms-for-oil deal worth £40 billion, benefiting the UK defence conglomerate BAE systems and, according to documents submitted to parliament by Tam Dalyell in 1994, the Iron Lady’s son, Mark Thatcher. Huge sums were paid in “commissions” and other kickbacks to Saudi Princes and shady intermediaries. More than £6bn was paid out, and some of it, according to Feinstein, even flowed through the accounts of the Saudi fixer, Prince Bandar, into the pockets of two of the terrorists responsible for 9/11.
Feinstein’s account of how the Serious Fraud Office was nobbled in its attempt to bring BAE to justice is deeply disturbing because of the insight it gives into the way that the entire British establishment has been subborned by decades-long complicity in the arms firm’s illegal activities. Feinstein has seen BAE’s modus operandi at close hand. He was an MP in the South African parliament after the collapse of apartheid, and he saw how the ANC was persuaded by BAE to spend £6bn on weapons systems it didn’t need while millions died of HIV/AIDS.
We knew the arms business was corrupt, but only a book as exhaustively researched as this one is able to reveal just how serious and extensive this corruption really is, and how democracy itself is threatened. “The tragic reality,” Feinstein says, “is that arms companies, large and small, and arms dealers and agents, get away with corruption and bribery on a massive scale, complicity in crimes against humanity and even murder. They operate in a shadow world, taking advantage of gaps in the international legal system and hiding behind the protective cover of powerful politicians and intelligence agencies.”
The Shadow World is a heroic book by an author who, in writing it, has placed himself in the firing line. We surely can’t go on leaving this story to Hollywood. The global arms trade totalled $1.6 trillion in 2010, up 53% in 10 years. As the world plunges into a double dip recession, with huge stockpiles of weapons, the script is being written for the ultimate disaster movie.
By Justin Marozzi
‘The Shadow World’ is an incisive exposé of the weapons trade
If there is one book unlikely to appear on the Christmas reading lists of the former defence secretary Liam Fox and his self-professed adviser Adam Werritty, one suspects that this is it. The sorry case of Dr Fox and the mystery chum-cum-lobbyist amplifies what critics of the defence procurement industry – Feinstein prefers the racier “global arms trade” – have long argued. To put it mildly, and in a nutshell, it is not known for its transparency. Nor, for that matter, its ethics and integrity.
“I hope that you might ask whether we, the bankrollers, should not know more, far more, of this shadow world that affects the lives of us all,” Feinstein challenges the reader at the outset. “Whether we shouldn’t demand greater transparency and accountability from politicians, the military, intelligence agencies, investigators and prosecutors, manufacturers and dealers, who people this parallel universe.”
It is a measure of his incisive reporting, admirable research across several continents and sustained sense of outrage that by the end of this gripping volume many readers will agree with his central argument that a stiff dose of sunlight is the best disinfectant for this shadowy world.
There is an impressive historical sweep to the narrative. Feinstein, founder of Corruption Watch and one-time ANC Member of Parliament, gives an absorbing portrait of Basil Zaharoff, the world’s first flamboyantly high-living arms dealer, “godfather of the modern BAE”, a man who once boasted of starting wars in Africa so he could sell weapons to both sides.
Zaharoff was the model for George Bernard Shaw’s Andrew Undershaft, “a profiteer in mutilation and murder” in Major Barbara, and was famed both for the ubiquity and size of the bribes he paid to secure business.
Bribes are a depressingly constant feature of The Shadow World, whether it is the £40 billion Al Yamamah arms deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia, “arguably the most corrupt transaction in trading history”, or the illegal payments made by arms dealers like Ukrainian-Israeli Leonid Minin, who supplied Liberia with weapons worth millions of dollars in return for diamond and timber concessions. The cast of arms dealers like Minin is unsavoury but thoroughly riveting. They range from the superficially glamorous (Adnan Khashoggi) to the downright callous (Yoshio Kodama, “The Monster”, a Japanese war criminal) and the opportunistic (Viktor Bout, the “Merchant of Death”).
The United States and Britain occupy centre stage in this exposé, joined by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the author’s native South Africa, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. BAE Systems is the arch-villain of the piece, although the American giant Lockheed Martin, together with those US companies like KBR, Halliburton and Blackwater that work closely with the arms industry, run it close.
Feinstein is tough on Washington’s notorious “revolving door” of people and money between the public and private sector. He notes that, within a year of taking office, President George W Bush had given more than 30 arms industry executives and lobbyists senior positions in his administration.
Feinstein has little time for those who argue that the arms business plays a vital economic role. He claims the numbers of those who work in it are routinely exaggerated and that their jobs require significant state subsidies. The issue of corruption, which is never far from the surface and is able to flourish under the cover of national security, further dents the industry’s credentials. He cites one study that estimates that the arms trade accounts for over 40 per cent of corruption in all world trade.
If the US and Britain come in for swingeing attacks, the less developed world, where checks on the arms trade are weaker, does not emerge with great credit either. Feinstein notes that in the early days of South African democracy, the country spent $6 billion on weapons at a time when the president said it was too poor to purchase antiretroviral drugs required to keep almost six million living with HIV and Aids alive. Over 355,000 died, apparently needlessly, over the next five years. One could blame this on poor governance writ large rather than the arms industry per se. India, the developing world’s largest arms purchaser, is currently seeking to buy weapons worth $42 billion.
Occasionally, Feinstein lays it on a little thick, for instance when he refers to Margaret Thatcher’s “fundamentalist free market ideology”, undermining a powerful thesis with a criticism worthy of an angry teenager.
He holds out little hope for the forthcoming international Arms Trade Treaty. For the foreseeable future at least, his desire for a “coherently regulated, legitimately financed, effectively policed and transparent” arms industry seems a distant prospect indeed.
By John Tirman
That the world is awash in weapons is not news. But the way weapons large and small flow from the United States, Britain and other producers to the world’s villains is ever astonishing. In “The Shadow World,” Andrew Feinstein gives us a sweeping and troubling story of how this happens, who benefits, and what consequences follow.
It is troubling because we have been at it for so long — the United States has been easily the largest arms exporter in the post-Cold War era — and still can’t seem to learn the ABCs of the arms trade: (A) the weapons we produce and sell or give away very often fall into the hands of people who want to use them to shoot at us; (B) the networks of arms merchants are also attracted to other forms of illicit commerce, like nuclear materials, drugs and human trafficking; and (C) the purported benefits of sustaining the “defense industrial base” by exporting weapons are grossly exaggerated. Yet none of these sturdy facts deters policy makers of all political persuasions from pushing lethal technologies onto petty tyrants and intermittent allies in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and indeed just about everywhere else.
Feinstein, a South African politicianwho helped expose an infamous arms scandal involving $100 million in bribes allegedly paid to ANC politicians, writes with a crusading spirit and a depth of detail that lend “The Shadow World” urgency and authority. Many of the sensational stories he tells have earned attention before, but he adds depth and shows how often patterns repeat. The essential method of arms dealing is bribery, payoffs on a grand scale that enrich both the elites in the buying country and the arms makers in the selling country. While political agendas at times play a role in who gets what, the reigning ideology in the shadow world is greed.
The Saudis come in for a thrashing on this, the corrupters par excellence. Feinstein draws scathing portraits of Prince Bandar and Prince Turki, among other familiar figures in Washington, whose thirst for extravagance was matched only by their sheer brazenness in the arts of exploitation. For example, when quashing a British inquiry into bribery in the largest-ever arms deal, the so-called Al-Yamanah (“The Dove”) sale of British fighter jets to the Saudis, Bandar threatened to stop further purchases and intelligence cooperation if the inquiry went forward, a threat he delivered to Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing Street, saying that the cessation of Saudi intelligence cooperation would lead to “blood on the streets of London.” Blair buckled.
Less spectacular but just as consequential is the exploitation at work in antiterrorism. The meteoric growth of the homeland security state provides fresh opportunities for military contractors, who, like Lockheed, have diversified nimbly into the antiterrorism business. No one really knows how much has been spent on homeland security, but it surely approaches $1 trillion in the United States alone. For the arms merchants, the post-9/11 wars have also been, in the words of an army official quoted by Feinstein, “a feeding frenzy.” Iraq and Afghanistan have been good business not only for the usual giants of the military industry, but for many others in the darker recesses of the business.
Feinstein reminds us briefly that the victims of the arms trade and the violence it enables are not just soldiers, but also civilians in large numbers — hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, the same or more in Angola’s civil war, Darfur and elsewhere. Contemporary warfare is more than ever about killing the innocent.
Regaling the reader with these misdeeds and horrid consequences, “The Shadow World” becomes a tirade, one that goes down in the weeds of dozens of deals. Feinstein has the problem that all serious nonfiction writers face, making complex and at times tedious issues understandable and compelling. For the most part, he succeeds by conveying them as stories. But it does require some work from the reader, who must navigate a jungle of actors and acronyms to follow these tales. This may be inevitable for such a comprehensive treatment of the arms trade, possibly the most complete account that has ever been written.
Feinstein makes a convincing argument that, particularly in Africa, the supply of weaponry made conflicts more lethal. It’s a powerful and sad case. Those who dismiss the notion that the arms trade is a cause of violence often point to the use of machetes in Rwanda as their example. Feinstein counters, “The popularized images of the Rwandan genocide suggest a primal orgy of slaughter, a frenzy of bloodlust and carnage. The exact opposite, however, was true. The genocide was meticulously organized in order to kill as many people as efficiently as possible. The mountains of weapons that had been imported into the country were crucial to achieving this aim” — weapons such as grenades and firearms that were used “to achieve the highest kill-rate possible.”
What he does less well is provide some hope in this stew of corruption and mayhem. A rather sophisticated if small community of experts, NGO activists and a few sympathetic governments has taken up the cause of limiting arms exports, and they met with some success with the 1997 treaty to ban land mines, a global pact (but never signed by the United States). But that was more than a decade ago, and these activists haven’t regained the traction needed to go up against the major powers — states and corporations — which cannot see past the bottom line. It may be that there’s less violence than once beset the world, as Steven Pinker argues in his new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” but there’s still plenty of carnage to go around — good news for the arms makers, tragic news for everyone else.
John Tirman is author of “ The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars ” and is executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies.
Deze week in Humo: Andrew Feinstein over zijn monumentale aanklacht tegen de wapenhandel: ‘The Shadow World – Inside the Global Arms Trade’.
In een kantoortje in de buurt van metrostation Belsize Park, Noord-Londen, sta ik bij de wieg van een standaardwerk. Andrew Feinstein toont me zijn eerste exemplaar, net van bij de binder bezorgd, van ‘The Shadow World – Inside the Global Arms Trade’, een boek waar hij vier jaar aan gewerkt heeft. Penguin Books pakt ermee uit op 1 november, en Feinstein zal een jaar lang zijn boek achternalopen voor de lancering van de Amerikaanse editie, de Zuid-Afrikaanse, de Nederlandse (op 10 november onder de titel ‘Handelaren des doods’, bij De Bezige Bij), de Spaanse en de Duitse. En er wordt al aan een verfilming gewerkt. Vandaag praat hij voor het eerst uitgebreid over het wereldwijd gesprokkelde materiaal dat hij in deze monumentale aanklacht tegen de wapenhandel heeft verzameld.
De wapenindustrie is een parallel universum: ze kunnen er doen wat ze willen.
Toen ik tegen de partijlijn inging, besefte ik dat mijn carrière in Zuid-Afrika voorbij was. Ik heb mijn ontslag als parlementslid gegeven, en we verhuisden naar Londen. Ik vond er werk in een bank, maar ik bleef ook onderzoek doen naar de Arms Deal en de betrokkenheid van Groot-Brittannië, Zweden en Duitsland. Ik kreeg allerlei mensen over de vloer met vragen over de wapenhandel – activisten, journalisten, klokkenluiders en onderzoekers. Zo ontstond een vrij uniek netwerk van mensen, en groeide het idee om een boek over de wereldwijde wapenhandel te schrijven. Niet dat wapens me zo interesseren, maar wel de gevolgen van die handel voor de democratie. In Zuid-Afrika heb ik geleerd hoe corrupte wapendeals een vergiftigde bron voor het maatschappelijke leven kunnen zijn.
Door de Zuid-Afrikaanse wapendeal te bestuderen ontdekte ik dat Tony Blair een oplichter was. Hij was een paar keer in Zuid-Afrika om de overheid ervan te overtuigen BAE-vliegtuigen te kopen die tweeënhalve keer zo duur waren als de toestellen die de luchtmacht eigenlijk wilde, en alleen met smeergeld haalde hij zijn slag thuis. Hetzelfde deed hij in Tanzania, een nog veel armer land. Terwijl hij de mond vol had over goed bestuur in een Afrika-commissie die hij had opgericht met beroemdheden als Bob Geldof, werkte hij met BAE samen om de Tanzanianen een militair radarsysteem voor hun acht kaduke vliegtuigen aan te praten met een prijskaartje van 45 miljoen dollar. Voor een twintigste van die prijs hadden ze bij een VN-afdeling een civiel radarsysteem kunnen kopen. Smeergeld: 10 miljoen dollar. Dát is Blair, met al zijn retoriek over ethische buitenlandpolitiek.
Reis eens naar Washington DC en je weet genoeg. Als je van de luchthaven de stad binnenrijdt zie je links en rechts van je, voorbij het Pentagon, de grootste gebouwen van Washington liggen. Dat zijn de indrukwekkende hoofdzetels van de grote jongens uit de wapenindustrie: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems… Zij hebben het meest uitgebreide en gesofisticeerde lobbysysteem op aarde. Ik kan geen sector waar ook ter wereld bedenken die méér invloed heeft op regeringen. Vergeet ook niet dat ze de politici rechtstreeks bedienen met gigantische campagnebudgetten, en met de tewerkstelling in hun achtertuin die ze beloven.
Oostende was zeven jaar lang een belangrijke draaischijf. Vliegtuigen die zogezegd fruit aan boord hadden, zaten eigenlijk vol wapens. Allicht werd er smeergeld betaald om dat door de vingers te zien, maar bewijzen heb ik daar niet voor kunnen vinden. Ofwel werden de wapens onder het fruit verborgen, al is dat spul niet zo makkelijk weg te stoppen. In ieder geval: de regelgeving was te laks, en je vraagt je af hoe het zeven jaar heeft kunnen duren. Daarna is de trafiek verschoven naar landen als de Verenigde Arabische Emiraten. De luchthaven van Sharjah ligt er zeer geïsoleerd, en voor de ontmoetingen en deals heb je het mondaine Dubai in de buurt.