Procurement: August 1, 2001

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The Real Weapon Of Mass Destruction- The fall of the Soviet Union unleashed a flood of small arms on the world market which has had an effect greater than any single weapon of mass destruction. There are about 50 million AK-47 rifles (including various Russian and non-Russian copies) floating around the underground market, with prices ranging from $200-$400 each (while legal rifles on the legitimate market sell for $2500). While many rifles are on the market, the sudden influx of the huge ex-Soviet arsenal drove down the prices. While Moscow ran the USSR, it kept tight control over its weapons, but when the USSR broke up, no one in Kazakhstan had an accurate list of the weapons stored in that new country, and nobody in Moscow cared any more. Even if someone in Moscow tried to find out about stockpiles and exports in what was now a foreign country, that country was far more likely to ignore Moscow's queries than respond to them. Enterprising (and desperately broke) military officers quickly cashed in their "surplus" stockpiles for the money to get whatever they needed. Even better, factories in ex-Soviet republics were already tooled up to make Soviet-designed weapons, and nobody in Moscow bothered to force them to sign licensing or royalty agreements. New weapons could be made quickly and cheaply for even more export dollars. Without a Cold War to force one side or the other to prop up any functional government, many Third World governments simply stopped functioning, and weapons flooded into those countries. The worst example was Somalia, but there were others. This has been one element of the recent upsurge in local conflicts and civil wars, and the International Red Cross calculates that the ex-Soviet arsenal has killed three million people in the last 10 years. Easy access to these weapons (which are generally reliable, designed to be abused by uneducated troops, will continue to work when dirty, and conveniently use a common cartridge which is manufactured in dozens of countries) has inspired the waves of child soldiers and has set entire regions on fire. Criminal organizations and mercenary groups have considerably upgraded their firepower. UN attempts to monitor arms sales have failed simply because so many weapons are now in un-monitorable areas that those with weapons for legal export saw no point in having markets restricted.--Stephen V Cole

 


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