Armaments and dealers

2012-01-11 00:00

AN equally appropriate title for this blockbuster of a book could have been Merchants of Death. Arms salesmen must be among the most unscrupulous and venal people in the world. The most notorious have not only sold weaponry to both sides, but actually provoked wars.

Few, it seems, ever pay for the misery they generate. Lack of hard evidence, jurisdictional complications and broader political agendas make successful prosecutions for graft difficult.

Perhaps the most crucial point made by Feinstein is that many arms deals make absolutely no procurement sense: they are first and foremost vehicles for corruption and elite enrichment. Opaque transactions, tied up in real or imagined national security, are an invitation to fraud and bribery. One of the worst practitioners is BAE, which has developed backhanders to a fine art. It has been protected by successive British governments partly on the pretext of job creation, although as Feinstein shows there are cheaper, more ethical ways to create employment.

But pride of place goes to the United States. President Dwight Eisenhower­ identified the military-industrial complex in the fifties. Since 9/11 in particular this syndrome has evolved into MICC — add congress to the equation in what has effectively become a permanent war economy. The revolving door between government, especially under Republican administrations, and the arms industry turns with indecent haste.

Enormous personal wealth has been made in the U.S. out of arms and other war-related deals. Pork- barrel politics has distorted the contracting process and billions of dollars are unaccounted for. It makes South African corruption look like the kindergarten. Above all, American military adventurism has been outsourced and privatised, particularly to security companies.

Apart from questions of discipline, war is now pursued as business, specifically to make a profit.

The publication of this book could not be timelier given the long-awaited South African commission of inquiry into the arms deal, the source of so much that troubles the country. But Feinstein, his researchers and the publishers could have done the reader a favour­ by producing a shorter book.

The fascination of much of what he has to say is swamped by a surfeit of detail. And, unbelievably for a book on weaponry, ordinance is confused with ordnance, a classic howler.

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