Book Review - Merchant of Death - Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible
If you've ever wondered how all these poor impoverished nations waging civil wars can get their hands on seemingly endless supplies of weapons, you'll find some answers here... Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible by Douglas Farah & Stephen Braun. It's an interesting look into the murky world of arms merchants, and a big player in that game... Viktor Bout.
Contents: The Delivery Man; Planes, Guns, and Money; A Dangerous Business; Continental Collapse; At a Crossroads; The Chase Begins; The Taliban Connection; Black Charters; Gunships and Titanium; "Get Me a Warrant"; Now or Never; "We Are Very Limited in What We Can Do"; Welcome to Baghdad; Blacklisted and Still Flying; Epilogue; Notes; Index
Farah and Braun dig into the history and background of one Viktor Bout, a Russian who has built an empire in transporting cargo. Using old Soviet-era planes, often barely airworthy, he flies anything and everything into global hotspots related to war and combat. While many of the loads do involve legal items like appliances and food, quite often the trips are much more clandestine and involve massive amounts of weapons. This can be anything from crates of AK-47s to full attack helicopters. And he's not terribly selective in who he sides with. On a number of occasions, he's actually supplied the weapons for both sides of the conflict. So long as someone will pay, he'll deliver the goods. Using global shell companies and partnerships, he can change plane registrations, launder money, and operate in violation of numerous UN sanctions and restrictions. Based on the research here, it doesn't look like any of the resolutions and embargoes have had much effect on his operations. He's well-known to many governments that pay lip service to stopping him, but few have actually done anything other than posture and talk.
The interesting part of the book is towards the end, when the authors start dealing with the Iraq war and the supply of US troops. A number of the contractors who fly in supplies will subcontract with others who actually own and fly the planes. And guess who owns a number of the subcontractors? Bout. Again, it's a matter of the government knowing that this is going on, but not wanting to do anything about it as it would limit the supply line into Iraq. The US government also will not put pressure on the Russian government to shut him down, as they don't want to create waves in other areas. This is a classic example of where right and wrong is clear, but expediency and politics turn it all grey.
The only issue I have with the book is that it becomes a bit repetitive at times. The research is thorough, but after awhile it seems like an endless litany of companies, corrupt leaders, and operations in various countries. Still, it's hard not to be dismayed that people and operations like this are allowed to exist, and that it's nearly impossible for international sanctions to be effective...