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Book Review :The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein

7 December, 2011

‘The Shadow World’ is an incisive exposé of the weapons trade      By Justin Marozzi ( In The Telegraph)

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.

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.

Hamish Hamilton, £25.   I’ve ordered a copy from Hydra Books the new radical bookshop in Old Market, if anybody wants to borrow it, send me an e-mail via  Bob

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 March, 2012 11:56 pm

    Do not understand why Feinstein’s refering to Thatcher’s ideology as being “fundamentalist and free market” undermines his “thesis with a criticism worthy of an angry teenager”. Her policies were fundamentalist and she ushered in that disaster capitalism which has since facilitated the arms industry in all sorts of ways.

    Also he doesn’t blame the 355.000 dead on the arms industry per se. When you write, “Feinstein has little time for those who argue that the arms business plays a vital economic role” you are actually referencing the point that is being made here and that is that had South Africa used the money that it spent on arms, it could have saved many of those 355,000 lives. Moreover, it should at least be appreciated that Feinstein was the chair for a parliamentary study group on public accounts and the ANC’s official spokesman on the National Assembly’s public accounts committee. Positions that would at least make that information available to him.

    Personally, the book was a revelation for me. It brought me to your website and reading it was most certainly an awareness raising activity.


  1. cool gizmos

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