Anti-corruption campaigner explains how the arms trade undermines democracy

Andrew Feinstein speaking next to a banner

Anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein claims that bribery is a major factor behind the global arms trade’s lack of accountability. And he says the power of the military-industrial establishment has undermined democracy, particularly in the UK.

Speaking to Phoenix Media Co-op‘s Slava Zilber, Feinstein called the arms industry “the world’s most corrupt trade”. And he stressed that “it accounts for around 40% of all corruption in all global trade”.

The wealthy G7 nations export over 50% of all the world’s arms. They also make up over 50% of the world’s military spending.

Secrecy, bribery and the “global national-security elite”

He then explained that:

It takes place behind a veil of national-security-imposed secrecy. So politicians, corporate executives, military leaders, intelligence leaders do things on arms deals that they wouldn’t do in any other sector because they just wouldn’t get away with it.

And he added:

There are no legal consequences for doing illegal things in the global arms trade. And one of the primary reasons for that is because the bribes paid on arms deals – both in the country that you’re selling to but some of the bribe also comes back to the country that is actually selling the weapons, not buying them – a lot of those bribes go into political parties and to individual politicians.

And as a consequence of [this], ‘defence’ budgets remain artificially very, very high. Huge amounts of money are spent on weapons, on the military, when often that doesn’t make us any safer or any more secure. And that’s because the global arms trade is circulating this money amongst what I call the global national-security elite. As a consequence of [this], democracies are put under pressure to ensure that nothing disrupts the global arms trade and the way that it functions. And that means also that nothing disrupts the militarism that informs it; the view that we should always resolve differences by armed conflict; the view that Western nations like the United States, the United Kingdom and others should get involved in disputes in countries like Syria, Yemen, Iraq etc.

Undermining democracy

He continued:

So we have seen democracy undermined in order to keep military and arms-trade activity secret. We’ve seen parliaments undermined. We’ve seen reports of things like the National Audit Office not be made public because they could be embarrassing to senior British politicians because of the bribery and corruption, and because they could be embarrassing to allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But now, we’re seeing a situation where the entire political establishment in the United Kingdom, which includes the right wing of the Labour Party, have basically used often untrue information to get rid of a very senior politician [Jeremy Corbyn] who, as leader of the second-biggest party in the country, was actually a threat to this military-industrial establishment.

So I think we’re seeing in a very direct way how the militarism that informs the arms trade, and the arms trade itself because of its economics and its intersections with party politics, has systemically undermined democracy. So in other words, we can have democracy so long as democracy produces the sort of politics that we the establishment are happy with; and if politics looks as though it’s going to undermine what we regard as acceptable, then we don’t accept democracy. And that’s what we’ve seen in the United Kingdom.

More about the interviewee

Feinstein is a co-founder of the Shadow World Investigations anti-corruption group. He is also a former South African politician with the African National Congress. And he authored The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade.

Main article image via Control Arms/Flickr. Additional contributions via Ed Sykes.

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