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Arms Dealing: Only a crime if you sell to the wrong Side By Robert Janeiro

by on February 27, 2012

For those who haven’t seen the 2005 film “Lord of War”, it is a remarkable depiction of the daily life of a New York arms dealer, who travels to the war torn countries of World selling (amongst other things) AK47s, helicopters, rocket launchers, as well as a whole host of other equipment made for one purpose – to kill. You could be forgiven for guessing that the film is about to be released in 3D, and that I am in fact reviewing its forthcoming release, but I am not.

In fact, the United Nations Security Council (permanent members) are the largest manufactures of arms in the World. Whilst I do not have a problem with this in principle (security is security after all), it seems that whether you are considered a legitimate or illegitimate arms dealer depends solely on who you are supplying. For example, William I. Robinson’s fantastic book “Promoting Polyarchy” (1996) provides an unrivalled insight into the practises of the CIA in Latin America between the 1950s and 1980s: to ensure the hegemony of the United States, the CIA used finance and arms to place Dictators who were sympathetic to America in control of governments such as Chile and Argentina.

A similar policy was pursued with Saddam Hussein during the Iraq/Iran war, and Osama Bin Laden and the mujahedeen in the Afghanistan conflict against the (then) Russian Federation. There is thus a long and well worn history of arms deals which have subsequently turned sour. For instance, the German–Soviet Credit Agreement (1939-1940) allowed Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to trade raw materials for arms and treaties for non-aggression, but such activity eventually turned to war.

There are also examples in more recent times, such as the Arab spring (Libya), where the British and French provided arms for rebels to fight the Gaddafi Regime. Moreover, articles by Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/25/us-syria-weapons-idUSTRE7AO1GA20111125) and the Independent (23.02.12) describe how wealthy expatriate Syrians are buying arms for rebel fighters at extortionate costs, due to the high demand. So it was with bitter disappointment that the retired British Businessmen, Christopher Tappin, is being accused of arms dealing to the Iranian Government. Tappin has been extradited to the United States facing a potential 35 year prison sentence (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17146487).

In conclusion, I do not know whether Mr Tappin is guilty of selling military components to the Iranian government or not. What I do know is that if he is found guilty it is not because his arms dealing was inherently illegal, but because the United States government have decided that he sold to the wrong side.  The UK government should do more to protect her citizens from the US, who can arbitrarily decide who is or isn’t guilty. From an international perspective, there appears to be a great disparity between legitimate and illegitimate arms dealing.

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