The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade
Andrew Feinstein
(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 672 pages.

In Shadow World, a book on the global arms trade, author Andrew Feinstein argues that there is only a thin line between what constitutes legal and illegal. “With bribery and corruption de rigueur,” he writes, “there are very few arms transactions that are entirely above board.” Feinstein notes that manufacturers are often major donors to political parties and prospective employers of defeated politicians, which ensures that the beneficiaries of arms deals seldom face justice.

According to the author’s estimates, including the trade in conventional arms—which includes military vehicles, missiles, and ammunition—is worth $60 billion per year, accounts for more than 40 percent of the corruption in world trade, and has cost the lives of 231 million people in the last century. The money spent on arms, especially by developing countries, is desperately needed in other areas. Feinstein, who resigned from the African National Congress and South Africa’s governing party after they were unwilling to launch an investigation into a major arms deal recalls that, in the late 1990s, the South African government spent £6 billion (nearly $10 billion) on guns it barely used, even while it could not afford antiretroviral drugs for the country’s 6 million HIV-infected citizens. According to Feinstein, more than 355,000 of them died between 2000 and 2005.

Using numerous interviews and confidential documents, Feinstein reconstructs the major arms deals of the last hundred years, describing in great detail the interactions of governments, manufacturers, and powerful arms dealers and provides an astonishing and insightful description of the world’s “second-oldest profession.” Although many of the stories were reported in the international press, they have rarely been described in such great detail.

What is missing, however, is a more detailed analysis of the reasons for the lack of political will for reform, though Feinstein does offer some guidelines to help future policy makers deal with the arms industry. Unfortunately, Feinstein does not expect to see any changes in the near future; the first decade of the new millennium was, in his view, even more violent than the previous century.