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A Sorry Commerce

P.R. Chari

By Anthony Sampson
Hodder and Stoughton, 1977, 340, 5.95

VOLUME II NUMBER 6 November-December 1977

The international trade in arms has reached alarming proportions. Some $5 billion worth of military equipment has been transferred to Third World coun­tries each year during this decade. The trade is unlikely to reduce, since the fervent desire of the arms-producing countries to sell is matched by the eager­ness of recipient countries to buy. Gre­asing the wheels of this trade are contact men, high-pressure salesmen, corrupt politicians and others, who lurk around governments, armed with bulging pocket books. The international trade in arms has been compared to the international trade in drugs, with its manufacturers, addicts and pushers comprising that sorry commerce. There is a paucity of literature on the international arms trade: no doubt the secrecy of its functioning inhibits infor­med writing. Works on this subject fall into two separate categories. There are scholarly works which would interest basically strategic analysts and the arms control community. The writings of Geoffrey Kemp and Amelia Leiss need especial mention here. Their seminal work is contained in a three volume Arms Control Project undertaken in 1970 for the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Tech­nology. Then there are less erudite and better known works. Lewis A. Frank’s The Arms Trade in International Relations, George Thayer’s The War Business: The International Trade in Armaments, John Stanley and Maurice Pearton's The International Trade in Arms belong to this genre. The author of The Arms Bazaar is credited in the blurb with writing four bestsellers, including one of the oil multinationals. There is little doubt that he is attempting another best-seller with The Arms Bazaar. Sampson tra­ces the arms trade to Nobel—the inventor of dynamite—who assuaged an uneasy conscience by instituting his prizes. The pioneers of the arms industry were Krupp in Germany, Vickers and Armst­rong in England and Maxim in the United States. Their careers and growth of their industries is described at length. Over this scene hovers the sinister figure of Basil Zaharoff whose spiritual descendants are selling arms everywhere. Zaharoff established his own intelligence service, promoted wars, sold arms to warring adversaries, and was the confidant of both Lloyd George and Clemenceau. George Bernard Shaw drew attention to the immorality of the trade in Major Barbara. Its central character, Andrew Undershaft, declaims: ‘The more destructive war becomes the more fascinating we find it. I am not one of tbose men ...

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