Sunday, November 13, 2011

Viktor Bout: Friend or Foe?

On Wednesday, November 2, the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted in a federal court in Manhattan on four counts of conspiracy in connection with the sale of weapons to Colombian rebels.  Bout, who once advised the Soviet military in Africa, bought weapons and a fleet of cargo planes from the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War and began trafficking arms to both governments and rebel forces in various conflicts around the world.  A British government report published in 2000 referred to him as "the Merchant of Death."  The movie Lord of War, which starred Nicholas Cage, was based on his exploits.

Here is the description of Bout in the second edition of Seeking Security in an Insecure World:
Bout is alleged to have sold over seven hundred surface-to-air missiles, military helicopters and airplanes, and thousands of guns to FARC, the Colombian paramilitary organization.  He has also sold weapons in Afghanistan and in various war zones in Africa.  At a Bangkok hotel in March 2008, Bout offered undercover agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency posing as FARC representatives a wide range of weapons, including land mines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and C-4 explosives.  He was arrested at the conclusion of the meeting, which was taped, and, in August 2010, a Thai court ordered his extradition to stand trial in the United States.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Friday, Andrew Feinstein, author of The Shadow World:  Inside the Global Arms Trade (reviewed here by John Tirman), writes that in 2003 and 2004, Irbis Air--a company owned by Bout--flew supplies into Baghdad under contract to the U.S. Defense Department and KBR, a private contractor that was itself working for the U.S. Government.  Feinstein points out that "governments protect corrupt and dangerous arms dealers as long as they need them and then throw them behind bars when they are no longer useful."