How to Profit from the Global Arms Trade

Author: Jack Cinamon; Editors: B. Arneson, Ruth Rohde
Published on
March 20, 2023
(updated December 6, 2023)
Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr CC BY 2.0


  • Be rich, know people, pay them money, sell them arms, get richer.

Want to escape the 9 to 5 corporate capitalist trap? Do you want more adventure and travel? Do you want a global circle of friends to profit off of? Why not become an arms dealer?

If the answer is yes, it must first be recognised that the global arms trade is a multibillion-dollar industry. To profit from it, you must first understand three things: 1) You are not here to provide “security” – you are here to make money. 2) You will make money as long as people believe you provide security. So, more fear equals more money. 3) Security requires nothing more than secrecy, and more secrecy equals more opportunities for making money. The imposition of national security is the justification required to keep various aspects of the arms trade secret, and this lack of transparency fuels corruption (a lucrative area for a war profiteer), and an area which you will rightfully exploit.

Obviously, without encouraging illegal activity (cough cough), the guide below demonstrates how to profit from a corrupt arms deal.

Dramatis Personae

You may discover that becoming a middleman (also known as agents or intermediaries) is the most efficient route to a big payday in the arms trade, especially if you lack the specific qualifications or experiences needed for a LinkedIn profile. Depending on their specific role, middlemen work as either private individuals or are hired by well-known defence companies to bring buyers and sellers together to help push a particular tender.

In this regard, it is critical to establish yourself as a highly connected individual (similar to a Kardashian), as the ‘who you know’ element will be your main qualification. In fact, the position is only feasible through a certain network of friends with benefits, which unfortunately means, if you don’t have any friends you can either stop reading this and invest in some self help books, or you could buy a summer house in Switzerland making sure you have all the right neighbours to introduce yourself too.

When you choose your friends, make sure they are the type of individuals who have access to the country’s procurement process: politicians, high-ranking government officials, arms industry officials or military personnel. Look for the friends who seem to be in a constant mid-life crisis, you know, the ones who have an affinity for nice cars. In order to effectively communicate with said professionals, you must use the act of persuasion. Methods of persuasion could include anything: simply paying bribes; to the gifting of brand new luxury cars, cuban cigars and designer handbags; or procuring sex workers for your honoured guests. If you are really lucky, the officials will be high-ranking, so you also have the option of embezzling public funds.

Of course, after you use your contacts to secure the deal, it is crucial that you are also reimbursed for your efforts (usually by receiving an excessive commission payment or by receiving a percentage of the final contract). A middleman with more entrepreneurial spirit, like yourself, may even demand commissions from both the buyer and seller, taking inspiration from recent high profile arms dealers such as Viktor Bout (aka the Merchant of Death).

Seller Country

To begin, you should seek a role promoting a deal from one of the states with nuclear weapons. The United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) five permanent members is a good place to start: the United States (US), France, the United Kingdom (UK), China, or Russia. These countries, along with Germany, account for roughly 80% of all arms exports. The US is a perfect go-to given that it accounts for 37% of all global exports. Ironically, the UNSC members not only produce and ship the most weapons, but they (and their resident arms companies) also carry an impressive portfolio in facilitating corruption around the world. In the long run, this will be advantageous because the negative consequences of the arms trade can now be attributed to the state rather than your role as an arms dealer.

Annoyingly, you may be slightly hindered by some international laws and agreements developed by the international community (whatever that means) to regulate the sale of weapons, such as the Arms Trade Treaty. But that’s nothing a good conflict of interest or bribe can’t fix. Moreover, most of the exporting nations that signed on to the treaty appear to be unconcerned about the harm these weapons cause to people around the world. Plus, they show a complete reluctance to investigate corruption in their domestic arms companies. It is extremely profitable for arms companies to sell new weapons overseas when the government has already paid for their development… and what if your weapons are old and useless? There are few rules in this game, so you can probably sell weapons that have already expired, such as broken helicopters.

Buyer Country

The vast majority of countries in the world purchase arms. However, the less politically stable countries with weaker public institutions, countries in active conflict or where military coups are common, will be more prone to regular corruption in the procurement of weapons. This corruption is obviously facilitated by the economically richer arms exporting countries, but it is really important to blame the countries in the Global South in order to maintain a little status quo and keep the global arms trade machine running.

It is also important to advocate for deals in countries where there is a strong desire to militarise, as the increased frequency of procurement deals will give you a better chance of securing one. At the regional level, Asia and Oceania accounted for 43 percent of arms imports in 2017–21. India and Saudi Arabia are the largest importers in the world with 11 percent each of the share of global arms imports. These countries have massive internal inequalities and large militaries that require a constant supply of weapons and other military equipment to construct external threats and maintain their capabilities. Expectedly, these states also come with a high vulnerability to corruption where agents (like you!) are commonly used to secure contracts. Major exporters actively pursue arms deals with corrupt regimes, increasing the potential for corruption through middlemen and in turn making more money.

If you are at a loss of how to conceal your bribes, a time fashioned trick that works almost everywhere is to just fund peoples’ political campaigns. Politicians in the north and south will be equally grateful for the much needed cash boost they deserve for helping you make more money.

Most importantly, you cannot be sympathetic to human rights challenges. You are selling death and destruction tools, and you cannot be concerned about the indiscriminate killing of innocent people when they are used. Your corrupt arms deals are making the world less safe, but do not let silly humanitarian feelings override your obviously genuine need for profit. In fact, you should be actively intending to sell weapons to human rights abusers, as there will be a more consistent revenue stream as heightened tensions or conflicts are a purpose of profit. And anyway, if you didn’t sell these weapons, someone else would for sure, so next time you meet an arsonist, be sure to bribe them for the privilege of buying a lighter off of you.

At the end of the day, you are in an immoral business, wholly guided by the invisible hand of the market, as nature intended. These weapons will likely divert into the illicit market into the hands of individuals and collectives such as guerilla groups or mercenaries; but you are not responsible for induce monitoring and have no care for the arms diversion process that may occur, your concern is the short-term profit, getting the deal over the line.


The huge, technically complicated structure of significant arms sales is one facet of the arms trade that works in your favour. Global arms trade corruption expands to all forms of weapons transfers, from howitzers to bomb detectors. However, to make significant profits, you must trade in larger commodities; major combat aircraft, tanks, helicopters, frigates and submarines have become notorious in major arms deals where corruption tends to be routine. The transfer of specialised equipment as part of the deal may have an impact on the size of the bribes collected in order to secure the contract’s parameters. The larger the commodities, the larger the bribes. Also because of the scarce nature in frequency of such larger equipment transfers occurring, pushing these deals comes with greater reward. Even better if these deals are accompanied by unsustainable maintenance contracts that have the potential for inflation. This would be a real expert move on your behalf, and could lead to a greater commission for securing the deal.

The Contract

Obviously, the greater the contract value, the greater the opportunity for bribes. The arms trade is competitive, but money talks: the larger the deal and the larger the bribes, the less likely the contract will be refused. Although these larger deals are traditionally driven by more notorious middlemen like BAE Systems Ambassador King Charles III of Britain1And Canada. And Australia. And Antigua and Barbuda. And the Bahamas. And Belize. And Grenada. And Jamaica. And New Zealand. And Papua New Guinea. And St. Christopher and Nevis. And Saint Lucia. And St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And the Solomon Islands. And Northern Ireland. And Tuvalu. Seriously England? It’s 2023, who has a king anymore anyway… , if you can prove your worth in efficiently hiding bribe payments, there is no reason you cannot also profit.
Certain responsibilities of your role will require the facilitation of corrupt transactions using shell companies and offshore accounts to hide illicit funds. Presidents, Prime Ministers, government  officials, monarchs, high profile oligarchs, rock stars, celebrities and many more already benefit from funnelling and syphoning these funds away in these jurisdictions through the use of anonymous companies. There is no reason you cannot do so similarly, but you must research the nature of such financial malfeasance, learning how best to conceal bribe payments and other assets exchanged in securing the deal. It is necessary to understand effective methods of money laundering, how to handle the financial side of corrupt transactions, and effectively ensure the trail of payments are as hard to trace as possible. These accounts must be difficult to prove or investigate in order to throw off nosy investigators researching financial malfeasance from stumbling upon payments into any offshore companies or Suisse bank accounts.


Corruption in the arms trade is a complex and often opaque issue, and it can be difficult to identify all of the actors involved in any given case, and this is a pattern you can take advantage of. The element of secrecy remains the foundation to the level of trust required in the business; trust is a critical component in securing the deal, but an exposé of the deal and its fine details could cause a political scandal, and we all know there is little loyalty when the political elite intend to retain power. Politicians alleged (with good evidence) of receiving bribes to secure deals seem to consistently avoid prosecution. But of course, there are rare cases in which a corrupt arms deal can lead to criminal charges and proceedings, and if convicted, be prepared to serve a lousy sentence. Luckily for you, in this sector there is little punishment and huge profits. The arms company may themselves agree to pay a weak fine on your behalf as an out of court settlement, which will most likely be a miniscule amount in comparison to the size of the deal. But, this relies on you keeping your lips tightly shut.

Or, if you do get sentenced to a long prison term, as long as you make sure you are valuable enough to your home government and that home government is crazy enough, one day you may be traded in a prisoner exchange for a basketballer convicted for the possession of… *checks notes* a few drops of Cannabis oil.

As a middleman in the most secretive of all legal trades, your reputation as a whole will mostly depend on the extent to which the information surrounding the deal stays silent. Of course, it will be fun to brag to your barber or hairdresser about the risky and exciting business, but your role as a middleman in the transaction must remain strictly confidential. People in positions of power and prominence are frequently involved in arms trade deals, so if information surfaces proving their involvement, you will quickly lose all value in their eyes, as they will be likely to face condemnation if discovered. So be quiet, unless you want to end up sitting in prison, or worse, dead.  At the end of the day, middlemen are expendable, they come and go.


To summarise, like the arms dealers before you, you must be well connected, know where to purchase arms or promote on behalf of the exporting nations’ arms companies, work in an area persistent in their violations of human rights, where heavy militarisation is increasingly becoming the norm, but you must also sell large commodities for a high price, and keep all records of illicit payments completely secret.

Yes – middlemen arms dealers are completely unnecessary, and the world would be a better place if they didn’t exist, but good for you – they’re eternal, and they’re not going away anytime soon.


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This piece is definitely not satire. Same way that everything “the Onion” writes is inalienable truth. If you don’t know what that means, google it.