As Andrew Feinstein admitted in the packed former LUCAS library at 4pm on the 6th March 2013, it is hard to compress 500+ pages and 3000+ references of his latest book, The Shadow World, into 45 minutes. It is harder still to explain his work in fewer than 1000 words, but I will try. His account comes from a real experience of the South African Arms deal of 1999. He blew the whistle on the extortionate levels of corruption, lost his position as an elected member of the ANC and began an exploration of the dark world of arms trade. His work revealed that there was a minute difference between the legal and illegal arms deals. They are one of the same. Whilst his talk touched upon an array of anecdotes and research, the two most poignant examples were the South African Arms Deal and the Al-Yamamah arms from 1985 to the present day. Both highlight how corruption and illegality were central to the ‘legal’ trade of arms and how this had profound effects for the people that the government’s claimed to represent.
At the beginning of 1998 Mandela began to withdraw from public life and by the end of the year South Africa had agreed a deal with BAE/SAAB worth $10bn. The ANC deemed it necessary for South Africa to acquire a jet fighter and jet trainer. There were nine bids for this defence contract. The initial list placed Italy at the top; they could provide a jet that could operate in both capacities and thus was the cost-effective option. However, after this list was presented to Joe Modise, Minister of Defence, he asked why BAE/SAAB’s proposal (currently not even ranked) was not on the list. The new list was drawn up and BAE/SAAB was third, behind Italy and Germany. Modise then decided to exclude cost from the equation, BAE/SAAB rose to second. Finally, Modise vastly increase the weighting of the economic offsets in the ranking of the potential contractors, whilst simultaneously consulting BAE/SAAB asking them to re-submit their offer. BAE/SAAB was awarded the contract. Less than a month after the deal, Modise joined the company that made $350m for the economic offsets in the deal. A total of $300m of bribes were paid to secure this deal, Modise, no doubt, a main agent in this process. Crucially, this was the period where the ANC claimed that they could not provide the medication needed to treat South Africa’s HIV/AID-suffering population. As a result 365,000 died avoidable deaths 5 years after the deal. If they decided not to spend the $10bn on healthcare, the money could have provided 2 million houses or 100,000 low-skilled jobs every year for ten years in a South Africa in desperate need of both. What, then, did South Africa get out of sacrificing the lives of its people? A total of 18 of the jets bought have ever left the ground and none of them have entered into battle. South Africa does not have the money to afford fuel for the jets or the money to train pilots to fly them. This was when the ANC lost their moral compass.
However, this process is not restricted to the African continent. Rather, the main agents of the process are in the Western World. Whilst the role of BAE/SAAB was examined briefly, the Al-Yamamah arms deal exposes the deeply rooted and extensive corruption in the British government. The deal began in 1985 and continues to this day. It was the most expensive series of arms deals in history, totalling £43bn. Corruption was a central element to this deal. Feinstein explains that £6 bn commissions were paid. Of this $6 bn, $1 bn was given to the Saudi Ambassador, whose father was the Minister of Defence and Aviation for Saudi Arabia. If this was not enough, he was given an Airbus jet on his birthday. A jet that the British taxpayer stills pays the fuel for. This was not only the largest arms deal in history but it can be deemed the most corrupt in history too. To add insult to injury Tony Blair cancelled the 5-year Serious Fraud Office’s inquiry into the deal in 2006, due to warnings that it could damage national security.
During questions after his talk, Feinstein explained that he was not an academic. Rather, he was an activist. How apt. How then can we end such injustices many ask? His answer: take away the two things that governments want from you, your vote and your taxes, and join together to challenge the accepted status quo. If the events above have riled your moral conscience then I urge you to take up Feinstein’s gauntlet.
I would definitely recommend reading his book as this blog post cannot address every aspect of his talk and certainly cannot do justice to the incredible work that Feinstein presents in the wonderfully written and researched, The Shadow World. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Shadow-World-Inside-Global/dp/014104005X
Brendan Lawson, 3rd year History student at the University of Leeds