Procurement: July 15, 2001

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Bulgaria, under pressure to clean up its act so it can join NATO, has gotten out of the gunrunning business. Those who have the hardest time procuring weapons are those who aren't supposed to be getting them at all. Outlawed rebel groups, criminal organizations and rogue states all are, at least on paper, cut off from legitimate suppliers of weapons. But these outfits still manage to get what they want. One of the reasons was Bulgaria, which had long been the major manufacturer of light infantry weapons for the communist nations. This provided over half a million jobs, and a billion dollars in annual sales. Some 95 percent of these weapons were exported. When communism collapsed in the early 90s, this business disappeared. By 1992, Bulgaria was stuck with $800 million worth of unsold arms and the prospect of political unrest at home if it shut down the arms factories. Through the 1990s, some 80 percent of the arms workers either lost their jobs, or shifted over to non-military manufacturing. Today, the region where most of the arms factories were has a 30 percent unemployment rate. But weapons production continued, at a lower rate, through the 1990s. Bulgaria found new customers among nations (Iraq, Libya, former parts of Yugoslavia) and groups (rebels and criminal gangs worldwide) that could not legally buy weapons on the world market. All these buyers had to provide was cash, and forged documents that were convincing enough so Bulgaria could deny illegal sales with a straight face. In one operation, a Russian air transport company made 37 flights to African carrying 20,000 mortar shells, 6,300 RPG antitank rockets, RPG 1,000 rocket launchers, 790 assault rifles, 500 antitank launchers, 100 antiaircraft missiles and some 15 million rounds of ammunition. Documents listed these weapons as going to Togo, but they were in fact delivered to UNITA rebels in Angola. Another 70 tons of AK-47s were parachuted to Indian rebels. Bulgaria offered an attractive service. Its AK-47s cost $120 each wholesale (ordering several hundred at a time) and, while expensive, Bulgaria could arrange air transport to just about anywhere in Asia, Europe and Africa. Weapons for South America usually went by ship. Other former communist nations also had billions of dollars worth of surplus arms at the end of the Cold War, but Bulgaria was most enthusiastic about getting the government involved to get the weapons out of the country without any legal problems. While the government is now out of the arms business, some of the factories are still producing weapons. Non-government organizations are still selling them to the usual customers, but on a smaller scale than before. 

 


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