“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones“.
In response to a question at a Department of Defence news briefing in 2002, then United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld sought to justify the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with supplies of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). And in “The Shadow World: Inside The Global Arms Trade”, Andrew Feinstein not only emphasised that Iraq had ceased active WMD production and stockpiling before the American invasion in 2003, but condemned the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) pervasive in the United States. He is especially critical of the administration led by former President George W. Bush – during which Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defence from 2001 to 2006 – and how relationships between members of Congress, the military, as well as the supporting arms and defence industry were strengthened.
Feinstein points to: the failure or absence of legal investigations and actions; the unique treatment of the arms industry by the government, as state-owned entities or privileged contractors; the revolving-door policies in countries, with the “constant movement of staff between government, arms companies, the intelligence agencies, and lobbying firms”; and the ability to mask transgressions through loopholes, exacerbated by the lack of international resolve and agreements. In addition to the implications in the formal industries which work closely with their governments, Feinstein sheds light on the grey and black trades around the world, which has not resulted in the necessary prosecutions or enforcement of sanctions to protect populations.
And amidst these considerations, the MICC is further driven by Rumsfeld’s notion of “unknown unknowns”. At first glance a justification for greater investments in military or security apparatus, it also presents opportunities for exploitation premised upon threats which may not even exist. Fear of the unknown – and of ambiguity – can be a powerful tool.
Much of the discourse in the book is focused on the United Kingdom and the United States – including defence, security, advanced technologies, and aerospace companies BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin respectively – and their aforementioned impact. Frustration with the established order grows as Feinstein, backed by extensive research of transactions and conversations with major players in the weapon business he has had as a former African National Congress Member of Parliament in South Africa, reveals controversial the transactions with countries in Africa and the Middle East, the corruption and cover-ups so as to avoid ramifications, and furthermore the government-to-government trades for arms and weaponry. “While some form of arms industry is required in the dangerous and unpredictable world we inhabit,” he concluded, “its special status and its intersection with the grey or black criminal world result in enormous costs to ordinary citizens and taxpayers.”
The socio-economic consequences in countries from Albania to South Africa to Tanzania do not go unnoticed, and Feinstein’s formulaic descriptions of how groups gain access to arms – which worsen tensions and prevent gains in standards of living – can be depressing. And while the plethora of names, factions, and events in the different countries can be confusing for the uninitiated, the narratives point to the far-reaching effects of the global arms trade. Notwithstanding the historical apathy and lethargy on this subject, Feinstein perhaps could have, beyond the brief exposition in the final few pages, proposed new strategies to complement his exposé. Otherwise against such overwhelming odds, the feeling of helplessness will persist.