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date: 15 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay provides a brief overview of arms trafficking, its participants and enabling partners, and the prospects of a reduction in arms trafficking through various legal mechanisms. It looks at two prominent arms traffickers—Viktor Bout and Leonid Minin—to illustrate these discussions. The trade in arms becomes arms trafficking when the deals undertaken violate existing laws on the movement of arms. These laws usually take the form of domestic licensing requirements or international arms embargoes. Arms trafficking is a complex multifaceted crime, and it can involve numerous discrete crimes over and above breaking arms sanctions, including, but not limited to, fraud, corruption, money laundering, smuggling, intimidation, and murder. Arms trafficking is undertaken in the context of the global trade in arms, made up of the formal world of legal trade and the “shadow world” of illegal transactions. Often actors operate in both worlds, and both can be mutually supportive in various ways. The number of collaborators involved in assisting arms traffickers means that successful prosecution of these traffickers is incredibly rare: of more than 500 United Nations arms embargo violations, only one participant has ever been convicted. The prospects for an end to arms trafficking are bleak. Not only are existing legal mechanisms flimsy, there seems to be little political will to develop an international framework that would help legal authorities pursue law-breakers. In addition, many countries are already awash in arms, providing ample opportunity for individuals to easily establish themselves as arms traffickers.

Keywords: arms trafficking, arms trade, shadow world, corruption, revolving door, undermine democracy

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