The comedy proves a good segue into the world of the global arms trade
Wars have long been geopolitical and financial whether or not they’re fought on the ground by those whose desire may be of ‘purer’ heart.
This tale about a couple of 20-something opportunists scoring million-dollar contracts with the United States army is based on the true story of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.
The movie hints to the more sinister, the large multi-trillion dollar industry of arms dealing: people and countries make a lot of money out of selling weapons of war.
Amnesty International compiled the following data to highlight the scale of the global arms trade.
Weapons and ammunition in circulation
- Total current military stocks of China, USA, Russia, India, France and UK:
15,426 Battle tanks
17,816 Armoured combat vehicles
36,621 Large calibre artillery systems
7,644 Combat aircraft
1,485 Attack helicopters
527 Heavy unmanned aerial vehicles
[Source: The Military Balance]
- 875 million small arms and light weapons are estimated to be in circulation worldwide. [Source: Small Arms Survey]
- Between 700,000 and 900,000 small arms are produced annually. [Source: Small Arms Survey]
Value of transfers
• A definitive figure for the value of international conventional arms transfers is difficult to calculate with precision. In 2010, the total value, as recorded in national statistics, was approximately US$72 billion. Since then, it is estimated that it the arms trade has been approaching US$100 billion annually.
[Source: Solutions, “The Arms Trade Treaty: Building a Path to Disarmament”, 2013]
• The annual authorised trade in small arms and light weapons exceeds US$8.5 billion. More than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries produce small arms and light weapons. [Source: Small Arms Survey]
• Total global military expenditure has risen from US$1.14 trillion in 2001 to $US1.711 trillion in 2014, a rise of 50%. [Source: SIPRI – figures in constant 2011 prices/exchange rates]
• Military expenditure in the Middle East has grown from $US99 to $US173 billion during the same period, a rise of 75% [Source: SIPRI– figures in constant 2011 prices/exchange rates]
The top 10 importers and exporters of major arms, 2010–14
Exporter Global share (%)
1. USA 31
2. Russia 27
3. China 5
4. Germany 5
5. France 5
6. UK 4
7. Spain 3
8. Italy 3
9. Ukraine 3
10. Israel 2
Importer Global share (%)
1. India 15
2. Saudi Arabia 5
3. China 5
4. UAE 4
5. Pakistan 4
6. Australia 4
7. Turkey 3
8. USA 3
9. South Korea 3
10. Singapore 3
Globally, armed violence kills around 508,000 people every year, most in non-conflict settings.
High homicide rates have been estimated to cost the global economy just under US$2 trillion between 2000 and 2010 – 2.64% of the global output in 2010.
Arms: who buys them and from where
The US, Russia, and China are the world’s largest arms exporters. The global arms trade was 16 percent larger in 2010-2014 than it was in 2005-2009, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Though China became the world’s third-largest exporter in the year 2010-2014 (5percent of total arms trade) the country is still outstripped by the export powerhouses and ex cold-war enemies the US (31 percent) and Russia (27 percent).
The global arms trade highlights where the US, Russia, and China hold geopolitical sway — or want to. Predictably, the NATO countries — with the exception of Russian-leaning Hungary — Mexico, and east Asian countries jittery about a rising China all purchased their arms from the US, and not the other two big exporters.
Likewise, the former Central Asian Soviet republics all purchased their arms solely from Moscow, with the curious exception of Uzbekistan.
Generally, China and Russia are more willing than the US to send weapons to countries with spotty human rights records. Angola, Iran, and Sudan all purchased weapons from both Russia and China. China has also used its arms trade to build influence in sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world Beijing covets for its natural resources and its growing labour and consumer marketplaces — as well as for power projection. China sent weapons to 9 sub-Saharan countries and was the only one in the top three to send arms to South Sudan, a country whose oil industry and international standing are both threatened by an ongoing civil war.
India provides another example of the role the arms trade plays in geopolitical influence. New Delhi frequently threatens to lean closer to Russia or the US in order to incentivise arms transfers from the other country. For instance, India is co-building its fifth-generation fighter with Russia — and at the same time, the US and India may cooperate on the construction of aircraft carriers.
During the 2010-2014 period, Asia and Oceania was a big recipient of arms imports accounting for 48% of global weapons purchases.
The countries have customers around the world. This map shows who the three big weapons export powers sold to in 2014:
In December 2014, UN member states ratified the Arms Trade Treaty aimed at regulating the international trade in conventional weapons. Ninety-one states have ratified the treaty, and a further 42 states have signed but not ratified it.
It has yet to be proven effective with continued armed conflict worldwide and thousands of civilians dying every day. Take a look at the crises in Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Mali Pakistan, Afghanistan
The true story
Where are they now
Packouz and Diveroli were sentenced for their shady dealings under contract, which included trafficking in unregulated ammunition, in 2011
Five years later, with a huge Hollywood movie made about their lives, Packouz and Diveroli have moved on from their arms dealer days, at least in theory.