New Internationalist

Merchants Of Death

Issue 221

new internationalist
issue 221 - July 1991

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There are lots of different types of arms dealers. But their
activities - both legal and illegal - are often interconnected.

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SALES REP - Robert works for a leading British arms corporation. An ex-air force pilot, he now keeps his beady eye trained on global trouble spots that will provide rich markets for his company's wares. When dealing with a customer he will whether his product has been 'blooded' - or 'combat-proven'. The recent Gulf war has helped in this respect. Robert's five-star, jet-setting lifestyle suits him well. But his salary does not soar to the dizzy heights of freelance dealers. He could earn a lot more if, like some of his colleagues, he developed 'private interests'- such as covertly arranging sales to countries against which there are government sanctions; or secretly representing the goods of a rival firm as well as his own.

 

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FIXER - Ahmad calls himself an intermediary'. He grew up in Beirut, a city that has become the nursery for arms dealers. He now lives in London and has an office in smart Mayfair. But his field of operation is the lucrative markets of the Middle East. There he fixes deals for Western arms companies like the one Robert works for. Ahmad takes a percentage cut on the deal. For this reason he likes to go for big orders of sophisticated equipment. He is discreet in business. But in his personal life he is a lavish spender - for which his friends nickname him 'Kashoggi'. The companies and sheiks and princes he mediates for may treat him with some disdain - but they need him.

 

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SKIMMER - Hassan does not have to do anything to earn his pay-off - he just skims the cream off deals others make. He can do this because he is well connected, has a key position in his country's defence ministry, and can stop a deal going through by simply refusing to rubber stamp it. Before giving his approval he gets his informers to find out how much the intermediary - Ahmad for example - is making on a particular deal and determines his own cut accordingly. It makes little difference to Hassan which competing company gets the deal - he will get a handsome kickback whatever happens.

 

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RUNNER - Jimmy gets weapons in and out of countries. His speciality is sanctions busting. But he rarely has to resort to anything so crude as smuggling. Loopholes in the law combined with corruption in high places serve him quite adequately. For example, an 'end-user' certificate has not been issued by the purchasing state to ensure that weapons will not be sold to states subject to arms bans. But Jimmy knows embassies which are prepared to sell a false 'end-user' certificate. Before the arms reach their official destinations they will be diverted to the real buyers. These could be countries such as Iraq or South Africa, guerilla or terrorist organizations or - increasingly common these days - drug barons in countries like Colombia.

 

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DEALER - Hossain sells arms in the Ara Adam Khel arms bazaar near Peshawar, Pakistan. It is a family business, operating from a small shop, which he runs with his two brothers. Mainly he sells secondhand rifles - AK47s, known as the 'guerillas best friend'.Hossain has little difficulty finding weapons to buy. They find him. Most are brought in by Afghan rebels in exile who received the guns as a military aid from the West. But some officers from the Pakistan army are prepared to sell equipment too. It means having to keep well in with different people - doubly important in a town where everyone carries a gun.

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