Arms, corruption, and the state: Understanding the role of arms trade corruption in power politics

Samuel Perlo-Freeman

Abstract


This article discusses patterns of corruption in the arms business around the world. It finds corruption to be widespread, almost ubiquitous in some sectors such as submarines, and affecting developed democracies as recipients as much as other countries. Anti-corruption efforts face severe challenges in proving corruption in highly complex financial cases involving multiple jurisdictions. However, they also face obstruction from exporter governments who are reluctant to prosecute their national defense industry champions so that even where investigations bear fruit, companies tend to receive light treatment. The article argues that corruption in the arms trade is not merely and simply a matter of individual and corporate greed, but is, on the seller’s side, also an element of defense industrial policy as countries seek to maintain advanced technological capabilities in the face of limited domestic demand, widespread international competition, and a buyer’s market. For recipients in buyer, and sometimes also seller, countries, an underemphasized aspect is the role of arms trade corruption as a means of securing political finance by senior politicians involved in decisionmaking. Thus, the practice occupies a systemic role in political competition, complicating efforts to tackle it.

Keywords


Arms trade; corruption; defense industry; political finance; industrial policy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15355/epsj.13.2.37

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