Are we heading towards World War III?

Dossier ~ Wednesday 2nd March 2011
The Red Sea Sharks (1958) - p27

Despite all the efforts being made towards peace, the hard facts speak for themselves. Things have never been so good for arms dealers: in 2009, the 100 biggest players in the manufacture and sales of weapons reaped profits of over 400 billion dollars!

Perpetually armed

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain... Guns talk. The world has never been as heavily armed as it is today. While agreements are being reached to reduce nuclear weapons (which only slightly decreases the risk of a nuclear war), the production of 'conventional' weapons  -  machine guns, tanks, mines, etc.  -  is booming. Weapons are spread worldwide; there isn't a single country that has managed to escape them. Even in Costa-Rica guns are rife, and they don't even have an army! It doesn't take much to unleash a worldwide conflict. A depressing fact is that acquiring weapons is seen as a way of creating a deterrent to being attacked. Yet this generates a sense of need in observing countries, which build up their armaments in response. Within a short space of time a new arsenal doesn't seem quite so adequate compared with a neighbour's growing stockpile. The arms race is as old as the world, and it appears to go on forever.

Land of Black GOld p03
Land of Black GOld p10
The Broken Ear p49
The Red Sea Sharks p05
Tintin in the Congo p12
Tintin in America p12
Flight 714 p38
Explorers on the Moon p47
Explorers on the Moon p39

Did you know?

The word 'arm' has multiple meanings. It can mean a combat branch of the military such as the cavalry or infantry. It can also signify a key person in an organisation  -  the 'right arm'  -  and alludes to strength: the 'long arm of the law'. The first weapons were sticks and stones, the precursors to clubs and cudgels. But when were weapons first used? Millions of years ago ancestors of human beings  -  more monkey-like than human  -  walked the Earth. Homo sapiens sapiens (that's us!) is the first living being to have created arms capable of destroying all life on the planet  -  many times over. The weapons existing today would be able to blow up the Earth thirty times. But once is quite enough! Weapons can have unexpected uses. In Yemen, for example, men carry daggers as status symbols. The weapons themselves are not necessarily used: they simply show that the carrier belongs to a certain class of person. The baton is the most widely used arm... but it can also be used as a walking stick. An axe is a formidable asset in a fight, but it is also a genuinely useful tool for firemen, butchers, etc. Handled by an expert, a blowpipe is a deadly weapon. Hergé's comic-strip characters Quick and Flupke love playing with catapults, yet centuries ago soldiers used these 'toys' to kill enemy soldiers.

Who sells weapons?

Many countries have a lot invested in exporting arms. For example, France sold between 10 to 12 billion dollars worth of conventional weapons in 2010, and they are not the biggest exporter in the world. Between 2004 and 2008, the United States of America exported 31% of the total weapons traded worldwide, mainly to South Korea, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. With 25% of the market share, Russia is in second place with its main clients being China, India and Algeria. Germany is in third place with 10% of world trade under its belt, exporting to Turkey, Greece and South Africa, among other countries. France (8% of international trade) sells arms to The United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Greece. Yet there is also a thriving private sector, with weapons being sold by independent dealers and middlemen like Basil Bazaroff, who Tintin comes across in The Broken Ear.

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The Broken Ear p33
The Broken Ear p33
The Broken Ear p34
The Broken Ear p35
Red Rackham's Treasure p57
Cigars of the Pharaoh p18

Was Basil Bazaroff a real person?

In The Broken Ear Hergé introduces an arms dealer named Basil Bazaroff into the story. Bazaroff sells weapons to both San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico, two countries at war. This unscrupulous opportunist is based on a real person: Sir Basil Zaharoff (1850-1936). A Greek born in Istanbul, Zaharoff's real name was Zacharias Basileios Zaharopoulos. He started his career as a tourist guide and pimp, soon moving on to selling counterfeit money to tourists. Following numerous run-ins with the law, Zaharoff 'cleaned up' his act and became a representative for arms manufacturer Thorsten Nordenfelt. He sold a steam-powered submarine to the Greeks while they were fighting Turkey in 1886, and then convinced Turkey that Greece had the upper hand, and sold another steam-powered sub! These submarines were extremely dangerous and were never used in combat, but Zaharoff was rich! From then on we find evidence of Zaharoff's involvement in every war up until the end of the nineteenth century. The weapons dealer also had a hand in arming countries during World War I. In 1914 Zaharoff was awarded the title of Commander of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour. Although he had sold weapons to both the British and the Germans  -  two mortal enemies  -  he was knighted in London. In total, World War I earned Zaharoff over a billion Euros in today's money. Zaharoff had no equal when it came to greasing the palms of officials and politicians: French Prime Minister Aristide Briant received a million francs while British Prime Minister Lloyd George was paid even more money!

The Vicking Arms Co Ltd.: a story of success!

Why do independent arms dealers exist? These days governments control many weapons factories and dealers, but it wasn't always like this. After World War II many arms companies came under state control. For example the FN  -  Fabrication Nationale d'armes belge  -  belongs to the government of Wallonia in Belgium. In The Broken Ear Bazaroff is the representative of the Vicking Arms Co Ltd. Readers in the 1930s (The Broken Ear appeared in 1935) understood this as a direct allusion to an existing British arms firm named Vickers Ltd. The company was founded by Edward Vickers in 1828. It was a smelting factory that began by manufacturing railways at the time when trains first appeared. Vickers and his colleagues quickly moved into the arms-manufacturing business, when railways became less profitable. Basil Zaharoff was the biggest shareholder of Vickers Ltd. In Belgium, the FN (created on 3 July 1889) was just as famous for its motorbikes and cars as for its weapons and... cow-milking machines!

The Red Sea Sharks p11
The Red Sea Sharks p60

Are there still Basil Bazaroffs alive today?

Plenty! One example is Victor Anatolijevic Bout, a man almost as notorious as Rastapopoulos. An ecologist and vegetarian, Bout began his career selling gladiolas in the Dubai desert, before trafficking in diamonds that he exchanged for guns. Bout has ties with Charles Taylor, the dictator of Liberia. Now 44 years old, Bout also owns aviation companies and sells weapons to all the poorest countries in the world, the governments of which pretend that they don't have enough money to ease the misery of the people living in their countries. Bout has friends among the ex-members of the KGB (the secret service of the Soviet Union) as well within the CIA (American Central Intelligence Agency). This is what has enabled him to escape police all over the world for so long. He must be worth a top award or knighthood!

Is it possible to control the sale of weapons?

Let's finish on a high note. Through the United Nations, the countries responsible for most of the world trade in weapons have been discussing an international treaty on the arms business. Every Member State (192 in total) has been participating in long negotiations. Many Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Sudan and Yemen  -  in some of which we are now seeing revolutions  -  are among those countries that abstained from the agreement. Zimbabwe even voted against the treaty! The agreement concerns the traffic of conventional weapons, and for good reason: in 2004 it was estimated that 500 million light arms existed throughout the world! If everything goes well, this treaty will be ratified in 2012. But sadly this will not be enough, in itself, to prevent wars.

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