If you haven’t seen the Hollywood movie “Lord of War,” starring Nicholas Cage, you should. It’s a great movie. And it’s loosely based on the real story of Viktor Bout, the notorious Russian-born arms dealer, infamously known as the “merchant of death.” Here’s a trailer of the film:
If you watched the trailer you may have noticed a voiceover line toward the end where Cage says, “They say evil prevails when good men fail to act, what they ought to say is, evil prevails.”
The notion that evil prevails is an interesting concept, but in real life, as it turns out, evil (Viktor Bout) gets busted trying to sell arms to undercover US informants in Bangkok posing as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) operatives in 2008.
After Bout was arrested, he remained in custody in Thailand for two years awaiting extradition to the US to face trail for his Bangkok deal gone bad.
His trial began 12 October and ended earlier this month. Bout was found guilty of conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and provide aid to a terrorist organization.
“Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” US Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Prosecutors alleged that in his Bangkok deal, Bout had agreed to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered rifles and 10m rounds of ammunition to the Columbian rebels back in 2008.
During his negotiations, Bout told the rebels that “We have the same enemy” – insinuating that the weapons would be used to target US pilots working with Columbian officials.
However, Bout’s defense tried to argue that he was doing the old ‘bait and switch’ sales tactic. They argued he was not trying to sell weapons, but the two old cargo planes that transported them for around $5 million.
“Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes,” lawyer Albert Dayan told the court.
Unfortunately for Bout, no one bought his excuse.
A judge will sentence Bout on 8 February 2012. He’s facing life in prison.
What’s interesting about Viktor Bout is that despite being widely known as an arms dealer for many years (he has allegedly sold weapons to dictators and guerrilla forces in Africa, South America and the Middle East), he seemed to operate with impunity. In short, everyone knew what he was doing, but no one could bust his ass. The question this raises is how? How did he get away with trafficking arms to failed states, despots, and war-torn countries for so long?
Well as Scott Stedjan and Winny Chen pointed out in their article, “Tough to prosecute arms dealers without lawsin SFGate.com, “As of last year, only 47 percent of the world’s governments have reported that they have basic controls on the import of small arms and light weapons, such as AK-47s and shoulder-fired missiles. Only 52 governments have any form of controls on arms dealers operating in their countries, and of that, less than half have criminal or monetary penalties associated with illegal gun running.”
A lack of regulations and international unity on the issue of weapons trafficking leaves the door wide open for arms dealers.
As a result, corruption festers. In fact, Andrew Feinstein, author of the “The Shadow World Inside The Global Arms Trade” argues that arms trade accounts for over 40 per cent of corruption in all world trade.
So, what’s the answer? How do we stop arms dealers from providing guns to perpetrators of violence?
Well, the UN is planning on delivering a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty in the near future. This, of course, raises more questions. Mainly, will this new agreement help to stymie gun trafficking or will it just function like poorly wrought gun control that punishes the law-abiding?
Time will tell.