Corruption & Arms Trafficking

    By Jurgen Opfe.

    Among the many types of transnational crime that need corruption to succeed and even flourish, arms trafficking can be regarded as having the potential to be one of the most devastating and deadly crimes of all. A major difference between arms trafficking and drug trafficking is that the ‘victims’ of drug trafficking mainly consist of willing participants, whereas the victims of arms trafficking are meant to be killed or terrorised. There is a body of evidence which suggests that arms trafficking is often done in conjunction with other types of substance trafficking, especially drugs, since drug traffickers and arms traffickers often use the same routes (Stohl and Grillot 2009, 112).

    Arms trafficking might also be seen as one of the activities which most requires the existence of corruption, in order to flourish. This is true for a multitude of reasons. For example, unlike illicit drugs, armaments need sophisticated manufacturing and components. Another reason is that armaments are much more conspicuous and harder to conceal, and this is true even in regard to small arms if any significant quantities are being trafficked.

    The Arms Trade

    The legal international arms trade is worth billions of dollars each year. At a recent defence briefing, it was revealed that in 2010-2011, the Australian defence budget is estimated at AU$26 billion, of which 30 per cent is for Capital Procurement.  This covers the spectrum from small arms, such as Steyr rifles from Austria and Glock pistols from Germany, to aircraft from the USA and the European Airbus consortium, as well as capital ships from Spain. Thus, military spending is approximately 1.9 per cent of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and represents a little over 9 per cent of Federal Government spending.

    This compares to annual US defense spending of US$664billion and 4.7 per cent of GDP (Broderson 2010). Also, the current Australian Defence Capability Plan (DCP) 2009-2013 indicates that acquisitions spending over the life of the plan will be $60 billion ($77B when adjusted for inflation) on Major Capital Equipment (Department of Defence 2009).

    As well as the licit trade, there is also a grey and a black market, which is where the term trafficking, rather than trade will be applied.

    For the purposes of this article the terms, arms, armaments and weapons can be used interchangeably. However, it is important to classify four subgroups of arms which need to be considered as being within their specific class. The first class ‘firearms’ describes a specific class of weapons, which generally means guns of various types and sizes.  Larger weapons systems are generally classed as ‘weapons of war’. The remaining two classes are remarkably related. Dual–Use technology refers to items which are commercially available but can be adapted and can be used as, or used within weapons (Keller 1985, 42). The reason that Dual-Use is so closely linked to the final class, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), including Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, is that the components for CB and R are legally available on the world markets for peaceful purposes. Weapons grade nuclear material is harder to source. In any case, both of these classes are of great concern to authorities worldwide, especially since terrorists seek to have those weapons (Stewart 2010).

    The Corruption

    Corruption takes place across all levels of society and seemingly across the globe. The annual global corruption barometer has shown that “Political Parties” score the worst on the perception scale, coming in at 29 out of a possible 35. Coming in at second worst with a score of 26, was “Public Officials /Civil Servants” and in third place was “Parliament/Legislature” at 16 (Riaño 2009, 5). With such a high level ‘trifecta’ of corrupt officials it is not difficult to see how arms trafficking can thrive. Moreover, in the same survey, there were some questions which concentrated on actual corruption activities, beyond just perceptions. One was a question in which the respondents were asked whether they personally, or anyone in their family, had paid a bribe within the last 12 months. This question was divided on a per country basis and six countries showed only 1 percent affirmative results, with Liberia faring the worst with a score of 87 percent (Ibid, 32).

    It is worth questioning why politicians, parliamentarians and public officials would want to take bribes or be otherwise corrupt. After all, they consider themselves, and at some levels are, the ruling elite, wielding prestige, power and income, albeit some of the lower ranking public servants may be poorly paid in some countries. To gain some insight, the USA offers an example which is relevant in an arms discussion since it implicates two of the world’s biggest military suppliers, Boeing and Raytheon.

    The Obama administration recently appointed its Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, a Democrat and former Governor of Washington State. “As Governor he gave billions in tax breaks to Boeing while failing to disclose that he had retained a paid Boeing private consultant and auditor to advise him on the matter” (Malkin 2009, 7).

    Despite pledging during the presidential campaign that “tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over” one of the first things the new Obama administration did was to waive restrictions to permit William Lynn to be appointed as Deputy Defense Secretary. Up until that point, Lynn had been a lobbyist for Raytheon. (Ibid 11)

    The Nexus Between Corruption And The Arms Trade

    A recent UN report on the globalisation of crime shows information about arms trafficking from Eastern Europe to various locations but mostly to regions in Africa (UNODC 2010, 141). It is notable that the countries involved at each end of the trafficking chain scored in double digits on the actual bribery question (Riaño 2009, 32).

    The Black Sea port of Odessa in the Ukraine is notorious as a transit point for arms shipments from the former Soviet Union. (Stohl and Grillot 2009, 84) The licit, grey and black arms markets exist together here. Some sales are perfectly legitimate in every way. In other cases, the trade is in those items which are in the grey area between licit and illicit trade, dual-use technology often falls into that grey area. Finally there is actual ‘black market’ arms trafficking. Here the UN provides an excellent case study; The ‘MV Faina’ was shipping legally declared weapons including 33 T72 tanks to Kenya. While in transit, the ship was hijacked by Somali Pirates which focused world’s attention on it. It turned out that after the weapons declarations had been lodged, the ship and weapons were illegally diverted en route to Sudan, before being hijacked (UNODC 2010, 114).

    Not all corruption in connection with weapons is transnational, In Australia an Army Captain who was tasked with destroying old rocket launchers, diverted ten in the process and sold them to ‘middle eastern gangs’ (Small and Gilling 2010, 220)

    Indeed not all corruption is about the actual transnational trafficking in arms, as was seen in the two US examples. In the case of Boeing, the corruption has caused some serious problems for the country.

    In 2003, the US Air Force awarded a contract to Boeing for over 100 new aerial tankers based on the 767, which was subsequently withdrawn after the discovery of an unethical relationship between USAF General Darleen Druyun and senior staff at Boeing (Fulghum 2006). Subsequently, the Air Force re-issued the tender, which was then won by EADS in February 2008, to supply Airbus A-330 planes, in a deal which was by then worth $35 billion. However, by June that year, Boeing had protested and successfully had the contract with EADS stopped. (Butler and Bruno 2008, 62). In 2010, EADS decided to withdraw from the competition, leaving Boeing as the only potential sole supplier, and after seven years of trying,
    the Air Force Still does not have new tankers. (Butler 2010, 26)

    Looking Ahead

    There are as many forms of corruption as there are practitioners of corruption. It infects a diverse range of players across all demographics and across the entire socio economic spectrum although not spread evenly.  When corruption is a vital component in the illegal and even in the legal trading of all classes of weapons, the results can
    be catastrophic.

    In this modern globalised world, legitimate arms manufacturers and their customers are likely to be geographically widely distributed. This means that arms shipments are constantly crossing oceans and land borders. Considering the value of the shipments, it is hardly surprising that some people in the chain might be tempted to be corrupt in the discharge of their duties.

    The severe penalties dispensed by the courts against both companies and individuals show how seriously authorities take breaches of the laws which are meant to protect citizens from the results of the nexus between corruption and arms traffic.

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    Jurgen Opfer is a consultant in Defence Security and Intelligence. He has a Masters in Transnational Crime Prevention, is a member of the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers and a member of the IEEE. He is member of the Old Crows, the Electronic Warfare & Information Operations Association and is on the board of directors of the Australian Chapter. Jurgen can be contacted by email: