In This Review

The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade
The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade
By Andrew Feinstein
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, 704 pp.

Until 2001, Feinstein was a member of South Africa’s parliament for the African National Congress. He resigned in disgust at the bribes paid by arms manufacturers to senior party figures as the country modernized its military. Arms acquisition by governments is a reliable recipe for corruption: massive contracts for equipment that might never be used, all surrounded by the secretive, protective aura of national security. “Merchants of death” have long been blamed for feeding war frenzies and profiting from misery. But in Feinstein’s telling, the entire trade is a conspiracy between greedy businesses and kleptocratic elites, counterproductive for the selling nations (because the weapons often fall into the wrong hands) and for the buyers (because arms contracts use up scarce funds without doing much for security). One might argue that there are genuine defense needs that cannot be met any other way and that the trade is not always as distorted as Feinstein contends. But the book is not trying 
to be balanced, and Feinstein makes his case with an impressive amount of detailed research and a gift for narrative that makes his findings hard to dismiss.