George Orwell once said, “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.” If Orwell was right, Mikhail T. Kalashnikov may have arguably done more to extend the symbolism of democracy to the nations of the world than all the international funds that have been plowed into the undeveloped countries (and into Communist nations) by the United States and other developed nations.
Although it is premature to predict whether the world is ultimately headed toward democracy (unrealistic prognosis, I would say), there is little doubt that Kalashnikov designed a weapon that is affordable enough that almost any “labourer” can afford one anywhere in the world. AK-47s are even sold on the installment plan and, depending on the economics of supply and demand, have been available in some places for the equivalent of $50.00 American compared to $1,000.00 for Eugene Stoner’s M-16.
This is not to deny that a swath of death and destruction has followed the Kalashnikov. Kalashnikov always blamed the death and destruction on the politicians. I concur. Read “AK-47”, by Larry Kahaner, to see why I would make such an assertion.
My primary criticism of Kahaner’s approach in this interesting little history, subtitled “The Weapon That Changed the Face of War”, has to do with my sneaking suspicion that Mr. Kahaner would applaud a UN ban on small arms.
AK factories have long existed all over Eastern Europe, in China, North Korea and other places around the globe. Mostly under the auspices of the former USSR and the Eastern Bloc nations the manufacturing facilities and weapons proliferated. Jimmy Carter even authorized purchase of AK-47s for the mujahideen and, by the 1980s; the CIA was purchasing the weapons for the mujahideen and the Contras. The weapons were cheap, abundant and effective; they also were easy to use, fired ammunition abundantly available all over the world and could not be easily traced back to their sources. Many of the AK used in Africa and other countries have been recycled from war to war and through various continents with very little maintenance or refurbishment.
The most surprising fact about the AK is that it is ideal for the small of stature, especially children. In Liberia, Charles Taylor issued AK-47 to anyone that swore allegiance to him. He began mustering more children than adults. In the course of taking control of Liberia for six years, Taylor demonstrated that a minimally trained ten-year-old recruit armed with an AK can be more effective than a well trained adult. Apparently it’s the sense of immortality, laced with plentiful amphetamines, opportunities for rape, theft and mayhem and the likelihood that, if not for being a member of Taylor’s army, other children would hack off the infant soldier’s limbs. These grotesque practices spread to other African countries, including Sierra Leone where Taylor succeeded in controlling the diamond fields and introducing “blood diamonds” to the markets of the world.
Al Qaeda discovered that weapons, diamonds and drugs were the perfect mix for the world money laundry, and exploited the opportunity to bring brand name terror into new markets. The role of France and other major powers, including the US, was to maneuver for a seat at the arms bazaar. The French activities in Africa seem more ignominious than the others because of the role France played in setting up Rwandan for genocide. But there was plenty of blame to go around with all the usual suspects in the UN, the Clinton administration and the EU wringing their hands, apologizing and probably making money from the tragedy. See the link to Samantha Powers article below for the details.
The UN role has been to point to the finger at the US for its “intransigence” when it comes to global arms control. In 2001, the “consensus” at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small and Light Weapons (SALW) favored ridding the nations of the world of small arms, “especially AKs”. On July 9, 2001 John Bolton struck a historic note for liberty when he stated:
“We do not support measures that would restrain legal trade and legal manufacturing of small arms and light weapons… We do not support the promotion of international advocacy activity by international or nongovernmental organizations, especially when those political or policy views advocated are not consistent with the views of all the member states…We also do not support measures that prohibit civilian possession of small arms.”
The author of AK-47 dismisses the important issues raised by the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs as though Mr. Bolton and the Bush Administration were merely kowtowing to the NRA and “a stab in the back to countries trying to keep AKs out of the hands of terrorist groups, drug cartels, and insurgents.”
Would you put your family at the mercy of the UN based on the member states’ promises to save lives in Africa? The plain facts are that virtually all the genocides in modern times have occurred with the benefit of maximum hand-wringing by the diplomats at the UN. The UN leaves when the “peacekeeping” gets dangerous and returns to exonerate itself when the dust settles in the blood! These same “diplomats” were some of the folks (including the French who were selling Saddam great amounts of illegal military technology) that did everything to ensure that Saddam Hussein had at least ten billion dollars to restart his WMD programs once the sanctions were lifted.
The UN role in the Rwandan genocide is documented by Samantha Power, “Bystanders to Genocide”.
Mr. Kahane makes the terse assertion that the anti-gun delegates identified the NRA as a pro-gun NGO that exerted a large influence on the U.S. position. Duh! “For the NRA, the conference represented the opportunity to raise funds and enter the international arena in a way never before possible.” The fact that the U.S. already is a world leader “in transparency of arms sales and accountability” compared to other countries, with “solid and workable” domestic gun laws poses an irony for the author. The fact that the U.S. is “in the forefront of monitoring weapons transfers, maintaining security of weapons caches, licensing of brokers, and setting standards for weapons markings”, raises the issue of why the “U.S. delegation did not push for international standards even in cases where U.S. laws exceeded worldwide proposals.”
I hear all this talk in gun-world about the errors of the NRA because the NRA supported some legislation of which some gunners disapprove. (See our article on the NRA at our Disaster Preparedness page. Whatever you think about this legislation or that NRA position, the NRA has been around since right after the Civil War and has an impact that cannot be duplicated by any other organization. It is an organization that works with the military and police and commands credibility with everyone that knows about the subject, except for award-winning journalists and former Washington staff correspondents for Business Week magazine, like Larry Kahane.
It is a startling irony that to compare Mikhail Kalashnikov’s poverty in old- age to the wealth enjoyed by his free world peers (i.e., weapons designers like Winchester and John Browning); the comparison amply demonstrates the merits of free-enterprise and evokes a certain nostalgia evinced by this simple soldier that designed a weapon to defend his comrades and his country’s vanished Communist way of life. Thank God that the USSR has “vanished”, nevertheless. Every indication is that Russia (now the biggest arms-supplier to underdeveloped nations according to the New York Times) and China (still a Communist giant, in case you forgot) are creating newer, better assault weapons. History demonstrates that both countries are probably keeping their newest small-arms technology a well-kept secret until deployed.
The U.S. is still the world’s biggest arms supplier. This brings us to the question of whether a world awash in weapons is amenable to democratic ideals. The fact is that individual nation-states themselves have to determine their national destinies and those choices are always made in a cauldron of conflict. The Middle-Eastern nations, for example, are working out a social process that is determined by many conflicting and dangerous forces and no amount of outside engineering can solve the problem.
The question of when and where to sell weapons to another nation, is preeminently a question of national foreign policy. There is no perfect formula or rationale for making such determinations and the UN certainly does not have the answers and never will. We have seen the U.S. arm the mujahideen in the Seventies and Eighties; then our erstwhile mujahideen ally, bin Laden, attacked us. According to Kahane, South America is flooded with U.S. supplied weapons left over from the conflict in Nicaragua and right-wing paramilitaries are vying with narco-terrorists in Columbia to destabilize the Western Hemisphere. The Russians and Chinese have also participated in supplying weapons to governments and NGOs in South and Central America and will probably continue supplying them. It seems like the winner supplies the weaponry- except in the case of the AK-47 and its offspring!
Venezuela is prepared to manufacture and sell a great number of AK-47s to Hugo Chavez’ friends and allies. We will be looking at a much more dangerous border if certain countries achieve their goals. Things may get very dangerous if future administrations shrink from the new challenge of Chinese geopolitical aims in the Western Hemisphere. Farmers and labourers that own cheap and useful assault weapons are the least of our worries and if they manage to overthrow some corrupt regimes here and there or protect themselves from genocide- who else is going to do it? Whoever framed the old metaphor of the wolf in the hen house must have had the UN Security Council in mind!
The UN has managed to institute restrictions on small arms in several nations already, but can the UN do anything where a Chinese owned weapons manufacturer NORINCO and/or Poly Technologies illegally ships assault weapons while China sits on the Security Council?
A company owned by a Chinese general (Poly Technologies) was actually caught illegally shipping SKS assault weapons (Chinese made semi-automatic versions of the AK-47) into the U.S. during the Clinton years. Allegedly the shippers had permits to import the weapons that were approved by President Clinton right after the U.S. assault weapons ban went into effect! The Chinese weapons were probably on their way to the gangs in Southern California. The assault weapons were being shipped by Chinese Overseas Shipping Company (COSCO) an instrument of the Chinese military that controls most of the world’s super-ports, including many of the major U.S. ports. Indictments were issued, but the Clinton Administration never managed to prosecute the corporate officials involved. In fact, there were Chinese campaign contributions made around this time by individuals and corporations connected to the transactions.
In May 1996, United States authorities caught the People’s Liberation Army enterprise Poly Technologies and the civilian defense industrial company Norinco attempting to smuggle 2,000 assault weapons into Oakland, California, and offering to sell urban gangs shoulder-held missile launchers capable of `taking out a 747′ (which the affidavit of the United States Customs Service of May 21, 1996, indicated that the representative of Poly Technologies and Norinco claimed), and Communist Chinese authorities punished only 4 low-level arms merchants by sentencing them on May 17, 1997, to brief prison terms.
How would the UN deal with that? The UN record can be summed up in one word- CORRUPTION.
If the gangs and terrorists in the Western Hemisphere (just south of that porous border) are getting as many AK-47s as all the above referenced information seems to indicate, then maybe all of us should have an AK-47 hanging on the wall of our cottage!