The Shadow World | Andrew Feinstein

Summary of: The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade
By: Andrew Feinstein


The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein takes readers on a deep dive into the dark, mysterious, and thrilling world of the arms trade, shining a light on its powerful players and the devastating consequences it can have on people around the world. With stories of backroom deals, powerful lobby groups, and corrupt officials, this gripping book reveals the disturbing underbelly of the global arms industry and its profound impacts on governments and societies. From the largest arms producers like the United States and Britain to shady arms dealers and governments that turn a blind eye, you will discover the intricate web of illicit connections and deception that keep the wheels of the global arms trade spinning.

The Murky World of the International Arms Trade

The international arms trade is a murky world filled with shady characters and corruption. The annual global arms trade has reached $1.6 trillion, with the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany as major players. Although the trade is a money-making machine for big arms manufacturers, such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, it is catastrophic for poor people in Africa who are caught in conflicts fueled by the weapons. The trade is also detrimental to government spending on basic health care, as national security is used as a smoke screen to conceal details of arms deals. Unfortunately, the governments of the world have close relationships with the weapons industry, allowing bribery and corruption to occur frequently.

The Corrupt Arms Deal

The United States and Britain are top arms vendors, while Saudi Arabia is the biggest buyer and the most proficient at demanding bribes. With no arms industry, Saudi Arabia trades its oil riches for weapons. One deal, the Al Yamamah contract, was the largest weapons deal ever completed and saved the UK’s BAE from insolvency. The deal was paid not in cash but in oil, which helped disguise bribes and circumvented OPEC quotas. BAE paid for special favors, such as yachts, cars, side trips, and prostitutes. Other bribes included a Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, and £250,000 for a Saudi princess’s honeymoon. The deal also involved Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, who later became involved in international intrigue. After the scandal, BAE attempted to reinvent itself as an ethical weapons maker and launched a green initiative.

The Saudi-US Arms Trade

The arms trade between Saudi Arabia and the United States faced several challenges due to political interests and mechanical issues. The Saudis opted for US-made planes due to their reliability, but the US Congress denied their request for fears of weapons going to terrorists. Later, when the Saudis lobbied for access to US aircraft, they discovered how things worked in Washington with Prince Bandar revealing in a Senate meeting that $10 million would be required for approval. The US eventually began to trade arms with the Saudis, with half of the contract price going back to the Middle Eastern country as bribes. Prince Bandar always received a cut and directed how much of the money should go to which members of the Saudi Royal family.

The Dangerous World of Arms Dealing

The book delves into the life and criminal activities of Viktor Bout, a Russian polyglot and pilot who built a massive fleet of aircraft and supplied weapons to various groups, including terrorists and rebel forces in Angola, Somalia, and Lebanon. The author highlights the overstatement of the economic benefits of the arms business and the role of powerful PR machines, think-tanks, and lobbyists. The book also touches on the blurred lines between private and public interests, as noted by the retired US Air Force Colonel, Sam Gardiner, who suggests Dick Cheney doesn’t see the difference. Finally, the author mentions the dark side of the arms business, as exemplified by Bout’s evasion of taxes and his eventual arrest after the United States targeted him.

The Deadly Lucrative Arms Business

The race for arms manufacture and supply can be deadly. The devastating effects of supplying weapons to governments and organizations are higher than we can imagine. This is revealed in the story of the consortium composed of BAE and Saab, and their £6 billion arms deal negotiation with South Africa. Even as Tony Blair and the Swedish prime minister lobbied for the British-Swedish bid, brokers made off with £300 million in fees, leaving many South Africans infected with HIV and dying of AIDS-related illnesses. But the consequences were even more deadly, with 355,000 South Africans losing their lives while the delivered arms reduced to half its original quantity.

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