Global Arms Trade and Corruption

The global arms business is a priority for WPF because of the way the industry fuels violent conflict, not only by providing means but also cause for violence, by distorting diplomatic and democratizing processes. Corruption within the industry is often treated in terms of isolated incidents, when it is, in fact, representative of the business model for the industry. Our program aims to contribute to documenting the global impact of the industry as a way to change the conversation about its role in foreign and domestic policies.

This program includes:

Defense Industries, Foreign Policy and Armed Conflict: This two-year research project (2020-2022) is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and examines the question, why, despite robust regulation mechanisms in key exporting countries and international monitoring efforts, has the global arms trade proven remarkably resistant to effective controls – with direct enabling consequences on conflict situations? It brings together an international research team in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, to conduct quantitative research on global trends,  and qualitative research on the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

A Compendium of Arms Trade Corruption:  Relaunched in December 2018, this  database aims to cover, as comprehensively as possible, both domestic and international arms deals, where there have been substantive, well-grounded allegations of corruption. Cases are published on the site as they are completed, and include information on buyers and sellers, the equipment and sums of money involved, and the timeline of corruption allegations, investigations and prosecutions, where these have taken place. The aim of the database is both to highlight the prevalence of corruption in the global arms business, and to illustrate the particular features of the arms business and the political environment in which it operates that facilitates this corruption.  The cases are also displayed on an interactive map, designed by Tufts GIS Data Lab.

Myths of the Global Arms Trade: this program relays and defuses the seven “myths of the global arms trade.” Resources developed for this program include an interactive website and book, Indefensible: Seven Myths that Sustain the Global Arms Trade (Zed Books 2017),by Paul Holtom with WPF project collaborators. Learn more about the myths and access additional resources on this project page.

Research & Publications: Drawing on program manager Sam Perlo-Freeman’s research and expertise, and case study research conducted as part of the Compendium of Arms Trade Corruption, this research program adds an analytical component drawing out key themes and providing analysis of particular country contexts. It locates military corruption within the ecology of corruption of each particular country; the characteristic forms it takes and how it is related to corrupt practices in the wider commercial arena (including the common phenomenon of military-owned companies operating in non-military sectors) and in the political sphere (including the role of military corruption in funding political parties and patronage systems).


A typology of corrupt third-parties in the legal arms trade: Along with describing and classifying third-parties involved in corrupt arms deals, this paper argues that most third-parties in the arms trade are valued as experts on the local political economy of a single country—or, at times, a group of countries with overlapping political cultures and elites. Rather than being globe-trotting shadow brokers with influence and connections all around the world, independent third-parties are usually geographically limited in their usefulness and have highly specific business and political knowledge. This type of localized third-party, which this paper dubs “national conduits,” predominate within the cases in the compendium. They are supplemented by lesser numbers of sales agents, gatekeepers, money-launderers, and offset brokers, some of which play multiple roles at once. Each of these types will be defined and discussed in this study.

Red Flags and Red Diamonds: the warning signs and political drivers of arms trade corruption: This new report by Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman (WPF, CAAT UK) builds on the work of World Peace Foundation’s Compendium of Arms Trade Corruption, a collection of more than 40 cases of corruption in the arms trade and the broader military sector. It discusses both the ‘red flags’ – the warning signs that help citizens, NGOs, governments, and those companies seeking to avoid corruption to identify and avoid corruption risks – and the ‘Red Diamonds’, the underlying politics and economics of the arms trade that create situations where companies and governments actively choose corruption at a high level.


Arms Trade Corruption and Political Finance: Talk of corruption in the global arms business conjures up salacious images of personal enrichment. But arms deals produce profits for multiple purposes, not least of which is to keep a political machine running. Greed as a motive for graft captures headlines more readily than ambition – if for no other reason that it is more relatable. Nonetheless, a failure to appreciate the importance of corruption in creating and maintaining political power can in turn lead to underestimating the impact of corruption within political systems.

Related video:

Sam Perlo-Freeman, Project Manager for the Global Arms Business and Corruption project at the World Peace Foundation, on who is arming actors in the war in Yemen. 

Vijay Prashad, journalist, historian and director of  Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, discusses the flow of weapons from ‘friends’ to ‘enemies’ across today’s war zones.