Global Arms Trade and Corruption


The WPF project on the global arms business and corruption aims to expose and oppose the systemic ways in which the global arms business poisons the well of politics worldwide. We aim to do this by deploying rigorous evidence-based research to generate national and international debate on the politics, economic and ethics of arms production and trade. The program is led by Sam Perlo-Freeman. Learn more about our approach and project collaborators.

Current Projects:

  • Project Indefensible: includes an interactive website and book, Indefensible: Seven Myths that Sustain the Global Arms Trade, by Paul Holtom with our project collaborators. Learn more about the seven myths and this project.
  • Compendium of Arms Deals: will be a database of arms deals subject to corruption allegations. As part of the Compendium, we have launched the, Dossier of Dodgy Defense Dealsa series of posts by World Peace Foundation which details 18 cases of corruption in the international arms trade and broader military sector and includes a summary of key facts, and key players, the corruption allegations, the investigation and the outcomes.
  • Global Review of Defense Reviews: Beginning in Fall 2014, the WPF, with partners at the London School of Economics, Security in Transition project, Corruption Watch-UK, launched a joint research project, the "Global Review of Defense Reviews." The purpose of this exercise is to analyze how countries articulate their security needs and how these needs relate to their defense spending patterns.



The global arms business wields political influence disproportionate to its size. The industry of producing armaments—including both major conventional weapons systems and small arms and light weapons—and the business of selling and buying them, has a number of unique features that enable it to assert a profoundly malign influence on democracy, transparency and the rule of law in both manufacturing and purchasing countries. These features include the trade’s commercial structure & the affects of national security exceptionalism.

The peculiar commercial structure of the arms production industry, whereby national governments:

  1. Protect manufacturers from normal market forces in the name of national security and the purported need to retain a domestic production capacity;
  2. Promote sales abroad in order to increase production and thereby lower sales costs; and
  3. Use sales as a vehicle for promoting foreign policy objectives that are not necessarily related to defense needs (in either producing or buying country).

These practices result in a distorted international arms market driven more by supply than demand, a situation ripe for endemic corruption.

The “national security exceptionalism,” whereby decisions surrounding defense procurement are kept secret, insulated from normal commercial regulation and public policy scrutiny. Secrecy coupled with significant and opaque subsidies to manufacturers for production and export, enables corruption.
Corruption may take the form of large secret (and often illegal) “political funds” available to manufacturers and their agents, and to politicians at home and abroad. It may also take the legal form of ill-considered and excessively expensive projects, distortion of conversations about security risks and the potential for mitigating them, and skewed budgetary prioritization.

This WPF project aims to expose & oppose the systemic ways in which the global arms business poisons the well of politics worldwide. We aim to do this by deploying rigorous evidence-based research to generate national and international debate on the politics, economic and ethics of arms production & trade.

Project Collaborators

Sarah Detzner: PhD candidate, The Fletcher School.

J. Paul Dunne: Professor of Economics, University of Cape Town

Andrew Feinstein: Director, Corruption Watch UK; Author, “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”

William Hartung: Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy

Paul Holden: Research Director, Corruption Watch UK; Network Fellow at Harvard Safra Center for Ethics

Paul Holtom: Head of Peace, Reconciliation and Security Team at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University (UK)

Lora Lumpe: Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundation

Nicholas Marsh: Research Fellow, Peace Research Institute Oslo(PRIO).

Sam Perlo-Freeman: Project Manager for the WPF project on Global Arms Business and Corruption

Sabine Selchow: Fellow in the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, Department of International Development at the London School of Economics (LSE). Director, the ‘Culture/s’-research component, ‘Security in Transition’-project.

Tactical Technology Collective

Hennie van Vuuren: Research Associate at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa, and member of the Research Team at Open Secrets: Researching the Roots of Power and Profit in South Africa.

Leah Wawro: Advocacy and Communications Lead at Transparency International UK, Defense and Security Programme; Network Fellow at Harvard Safra Center for Ethics.


Compendium of Arms Deals

World Peace Foundation is working on developing a database of arms deals subject to corruption allegations. Once complete, the database is still in development, but will aim to cover, as comprehensively as possible, both domestic and international, where there have been substantive, well-grounded allegations of corruption. The database will 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 database will be based solely on material in the public domain. Except where criminal or civil convictions have taken place, no inference of guilt on the part of any individual or company may be drawn from the existence of allegations.