Editor’s note: This film will be removed on January 19, 2020.
Today, total international trade in arms is worth about $100bn a year, according to Pieter Wezemen, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
With military power as the backbone of foreign policy and the central strategy for economic gains, the volume of international transfers of major weapons has been growing steadily over the past 15 years.
Based on Andrew Feinstein’s book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, this film reveals some of the largest and most corrupt arms deals in history.
The UK is the largest arms producer in Western Europe and it’s also a top exporter of arms to Saudi Arabia. The most notable deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia is the Al-Yamamah arms deal in which the British Weapons Manufacturer BAE Systems was the main contractor. The first sales took place in September 1985.
Through the deal, Saudi Arabia wanted $54bn (or 43 billion pounds) worth of weaponry. Massive bribery secured the deal in favour of BAE. The UK Serious Fraud Office and police identified $7.6bn (or six billion pounds) in corrupt payments.
In order to smooth the way with Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud, Saudi Ambassador to the US (1983-2005), BAE gifted him a huge commercial airliner all of his very own and a total of one billion pounds over the years.
Investigative Editor for The Guardian, David Leigh says there is evidence that Mark Thatcher, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, got 12 million pounds ($15.2m) in cash for acting as an intermediary for the Al-Yamamah deal.
Today, Saudi Arabia continues its blockade and military intervention in Yemen, which has resulted in what the UN has declared the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. This, however, has not stopped the UK from continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia saying that their strategic relationship with Riyadh needs to be protected.
The US, of course, remains the world’s largest arms exporter and is the number one supplier of arms to the Middle East. The largest recipient of US arms in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia. Employed as a political and economic tool, the international arms trade has pushed the world into a perpetual state of war.
Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired colonel of the US Army and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the ultimate manifestation of the national-security state will go to all ends to create this perpetual state of war. “The national-security elite today is mostly composed of people who hit the revolving door multiple times during their lives,” says Wilkerson.
Dick Cheney, former secretary of defense and vice president of the United States, is a prime example.
From 1989-1993, Cheney served as secretary of defense during the presidency of George HW Bush. He then moved on to become the chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company from 1995-2000. The American multinational corporation is one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies. Halliburton was hired during the US invasion of Iraq when Cheney came back into power as vice president under President Geroge W Bush.
Wilkerson explains that this revolving door between the private industry and government “keeps the national security elite very small and very wealthy”.
This wealth is generated at the cost of human life. The US is also the biggest supplier of military aid to Israel. Israeli weapons manufacturing companies are becoming an increasingly important and significant part of the Israeli economy, which means that war is a depending factor.
“Every two years or so the Israeli military attacks the Gaza Strip and right after there is a trade show in which Israeli weapon companies show their technologies … The first thing they say when they try to market is, ‘We’ve already used that on actual human beings.’ By making that claim, they are able to compete with other weapon manufacturers from other countries … it’s also a trade show for the US arms industry,” says Israeli Economist Shir Hever.
Through the global arms trade, democracy continues to be undermined and any real chance of working towards global security and peace is diminishing.
Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano writes, “The 20th century, born proclaiming peace and justice, died bathed in blood. It passed on a world much more unjust than the one it inherited. The 21st century, which also arrived heralding peace and justice, is following in its predecessor’s footsteps.”
This two-part documentary investigates billion-dollar global arms industry that counts its profits in billions and its losses in human lives.