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Congo: On the Trail of an AK-47
China's calling card in Africa


Benjamin Pauker

Benjamin Pauker is the managing editor of
World Policy Journal
, an opinion journal of global politics and international affairs based in New York. He has also written for Harper's magazine and The Chicago Tribune. Prior to this story, his only experience with small arms was a BB Gun, which his mother discovered and promptly threw away.

Watch Video

Length: 7:26

Arming Africa
By Benjamin Pauker

This story began with a simple question posed to Peter Batchelor, the U.N.'s team leader for small arms and disarmament affairs, as we walked through the dim, subterranean corridors of the United Nations building in New York. I was attending a preparatory conference to curry international support for proposed legislation to curb illegal trafficking of small arms and light weapons -- a category comprised of everything from pistols to shoulder-fired rockets -- and Batchelor was frantically meeting with diplomats, peace activists and arms lobbyists. I had only a moment with him: "I'm looking to track a weapon," I said, "back from a conflict zone to the manufacturer. Where have simple guns like the AK-47 inflicted the most damage?" His answer was quick and unequivocal: Congo.

And so I found myself, three flights and several days after departing New York, landing in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The scene awaiting me at the airport was chaotic: the country in microcosm. Airplanes crowded the tarmac, parked akimbo, their wings almost touching. Small mobs of people massed at the rear of ragged, ancient propeller planes, jostling for space among mountains of cargo and foodstuffs bound for Congo's vast, forested interior. Farther down the runway, an armada of gleaming, white United Nations planes and helicopters were behind guard posts and metal fences. We taxied to a halt alongside an old Boeing 727, painted in livery of the country's flag. It was the president's own plane, Congo's Air Force One, available for charter, for the right price.

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If the West does not get off its butt and counter the moves by these Chinese to be in Africa, and Africa itself does nothing to stop the Chinese, we are all in trouble.

Tashi Dondup - Boise, ID
Insightful and thought provoking. It's fascinating (and scary) to learn about the driving forces behind conflict.

a new breed of opportunists that has come to dominate the= global landscape of conflicts since the end of the Cold War. Gone is the super power ideological divide that once gave a strange sort of order to the
world's wars. In its place are entrepreneurs, selling arms or military expertise and support, and companies, whose drilling and mining in some of the hottest spots often prolong conflict and instability. Additionally, the military downsizing that followed the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union flooded the market with surplus arms and trained soldiers looking for a job.As Pete Singer, an Olin Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, said: "This incredible dump of goods and services has made it much easier for non-state actors to fight a war."A nearly two-year investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into the business of war has found that these non-state actors =96 despite their appearance of being freelancers =96 have copious connections to intelligence services, multinational corporations, political figures and criminal syndicates in the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East. Often, they work as proxies for national or corporate interests whose involvement is buried under layers of secrecy.

Largo, MD
This article and video sum up the story of the Democratic= Republic of Congo (DRC), and a single weapon that has come to symbolize the chaos that permeates throughout the nation, and has done so for years. The reporter used the tracing of a single AK-47 rifle as a way to showcase a number of problems in the region. The first; lawlessness. As described in the story, the country borders on the edge of anarchy. There has been a degree of war and destruction in Congo for years now. I was surprised to find out that over 4 million people have died as a result of the fighting since 1998. The second; the Chinese connection. Just like the weapon itself was manufactured in China, some of the issues facing the country, and even the continent can be traced back to a Sino-African relationship that favors low cost government loans for rulers that often use some of the money to fuel conflict. This shows greed and carelessness on the side of the Chinese government who builds these relationships only to bolster the use of Africa's natural resources.. By offering these loans, and huge infrastructure projects to countries with horrific human rights records, the Chinese show little interest in being a moral leader on the continent, and in the world.

Chantilly, Virginia
This video shows how money and thirst for power can move nations to negotiate with weapons. It is incredible to think that China is in this business. There is not sufficient help to stop this trafficking of weapons. While there is money and resources on the line, this will continue unless the world as one can stop it.

Reston, VA
I am left dumb founded after watching the video and reading the article. Mostly in what goes through China's head. How they can possibly sit there day after day and be okay knowing that they are helping in killing many people of the Congo by helping with arms sales to the militias and rebel groups in the area. All this just to take advantage of the areas natural resources. But they don't seem to acknowledge the high death toll because of it. And if they do acknowledge it, they do not seem to care. However, the responsibility is not all on China as there are other countries whose weapons and ammunition show up in the hands of the rebels. I just think it's sad that people can look the other way all in the name of resources and money!

Reston, VA
I've always appreciated Frontline's investigative journalism over the years. Check out the following Washington Post article published 2/14/10 that describes China's trading practices with Australia and resulting consequences: The article concludes with the following ominous quote: They [China] are an enormously powerful nation," Rowley added, his back to the Perth skyline with its frenetic cranes and glistening new towers of glass. "The world hasn't woken up to the fact that they are going to replace America. But it's how they're going to do it that's the question."

Melissa Nulty - Woodbridge, VA
I was not into Geography much until I started talking the= course in college. After watching this video (per assignment) it has open
ed my eyes to how countries are being run and how people are being treated.
I would never have thought that this would be going on. The video was ve
ry interesting and disturbing at the same time. Right now I'm not sure wha
t to think of it but that it is wrong and very eye opening. I am very intr
igued by what I have watched and plan on investigation the topic further.
Great reporting.

Reston, VA
This video gives great information. I feel that Africa has its own war on terror to fight but with fewer resources than the US. So when China provides the weapons they feel they have a ally. But it could prove dangerous as Africa is a third world continent and fighting for basic needs is done on a regular basis.

Tracy, CA
Despite the UN's valiant attempts to construct a small arms trade agreement to counter the destructive nature of the small arms trade, It seems that with the roles of major exporters of arms such as China and Russia who have vested interests in the trade, the course of action to control the trade may just legitimize the trade of arms by these countries. By restricting arms trade only to legitimate states we are basically condoning a oppressive state's acquisition of arms. This means that places like Uzbekistan and Myanmar would still be able to acquire small arms but if a democratic uprising were to occur they would be out of luck and would have to
face the wrath of a well-equipped and well-trained oppressor. While these measures may be seemingly innocuous and benign they only benefit those in control and allows more profiting from the conflicts. Also in a response closer to the article, China's reasons for selling arms in Africa are multi-faceted. One must consider what benefits the Chinese government gains from supplying arms in the region. The potential that an unstable region like the Congo provides them is incredible. In basically the most natural resource rich country in Africa, the perpetuation of a conflict allows them to begin to gain control of the economic base of the region and exploit the African's
much like the Belgian's before them. Another benefit of the perpetuation of a conflict is that it allows the dumping of military surplus weapons that
most Western Nations have restricted from entering their Personal Firearms
Market. For example, after the partial ban on Norinco imports in 1989 and
then a Clinton-Era Executive Order completely banning Norinco and other Chinese State weapons companies from further importing firearms, the Chinese needed a place to dump more Mil-Surp firearms and a conflict region like the
Congo and most of Africa in general is a perfect place to do so, they make
a tidy profit and are able to dump off weapons that may have otherwise sat
in Military Warehouses for another 30 years.

Wakefield Travers - Herndon, Virginia
Wow! This is a mouthful of disturbing as well as enlightening information about Congo. I had no clue that arms were being smuggled into Congo from China or anywhere else for that matter. China has invested a great deal in the US while even a greater investment in Congo. Congo's vast natural resources have always been the crux of their problem because of greed. Other countries and dictators have attempted to exploit these resources for self gain and now here is China mining for precious metals. China stole this right out of the US book playbook of moving the money, just like the Iran-Contra deal where the US was supplying I ran with weapons from the proceeds of drug bust in the 1980s. China is receiving the right to mine for the resources solely because of the supply of AK-47 to Congo. China's relationship with Congo is deteriorating the lives of the Congolese by arming rebel factions resulting in the rape, dismembering of body parts, murder, robbery and death of its own people. This is appalling and the UN as well as the United States should take a proactive role in stopping this business relationship. China is causing the systematic destruction of Congolese people. They continue to not care about human rights or working conditions.

The article was a great venture into the workings of gun manufacturer's of the Congo, I would not have guessed that China is such a big participant in providing guns to this region. The thirst of man for natural resources is so big that a major world powers such as China will do pretty much anything to get their hands on necessary natural resources such as iron or gold, which the Congo can provide and is rich in. If trading guns is the way they are able to acquire these resources it appears they don't hesitate much and will go ahead with such tactics. One can only hope that sooner or later humans will get wiser and see that such actions aren't doing any good for anyone.

Though horrible and totally unsatisfactory in today's world, this article was not surprising. It seems to me that bloodshed has become the status quo amongst various factions competing for control of resources in DRC and other African countries. Perhaps we need a new system of thinking to resolve the issues that plague Africa.

Burke, VA
What a sad story! However, it is not surprising. It is just repeating history. Wherever there are natural resources, there will be corruption and foreign interference. I have learned about many countries that had such horrific foreign political or military interference from countries for economic or political interest in other weak countries. One of those stories is the Lebanese civil war which lasted for about 24 years. Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC is a country in the center of Africa with a very small stretch on the Atlantic Ocean. It was new for me to learn that Congo has many natural resources. Of course the natural resources are attractions to foreign countries. China is of course seeking resources for its industries. People from countries such as Congo should learn that countries with economic or political interests are not helping them by giving them arms. They are simply fueling their conflicts so that they can gain access to their natural resources. I also learned that there are 2 countries with the name Congo. The one in question is DRC and its capital is Kinshasa. The second one is Republic of Congo and its capital is Brazzaville.

Before I read the article and watch the video, I never thought how critical the situation is, not only in Congo but also on most of the African countries where war, violence and arm trafficking are involved.Is unacceptable how China, USA and the European Union only think of their
own well being and prosperity, when in other parts of the world like Congo,
the people are killing each other and destroying their territories, with weapons and supplies facilitated to them.I would never be able to understand how the United States always gets involved in this type of mess; when we look back in the history and events of the Congo, the US helped a bloody military leader get in power with just thejustification that he was western-friendly.Is unbelievable that nations like China want to get control of the natural resources not only from Congo but also from other countries in the region,
contributing to arms trafficking, allowing rebel groups to fight what they consider unfair and corrupted governments.The poverty and violence in this country is one of the consequences of the
selfishness of its leaders and corrupted government that look only to their own economic benefit and their followers, transforming this inequitable way of living in feelings of detestation between one another in their own territory creating this rebels groups.

If America were to step in and try and get some of this money we could then in turn start paying are debt back to China but at the same time help Africa while we are there and not ring them out to dry.

My reaction to this is that I am appalled. It is wrong for the Chinese government to allow arms manufacturers to sell weapons to tribes and corrupt governments. They are only feeding a fire and taking advantage of an uncivilized, war struck nation and leeching its resources to create more weapons and make a profit. Something must be done by the UN or it will never change the social situation of suffering Congo.

- South Riding, VA
First thing that came to mind reading this article and watching this video is the struggle of the people in Congo. If this country has all these rich Natural Resources, what a shame that it is not really using them to enhance the quality of life for its own people. Instead, greed plays a major role by other countries to obtain these Natural Resources from Congo. Unfortunately the Congolese believe that they have the trust of the Chinese by doing transactions such as the sale of Arms. As stated by the video "China takes what it needs and leaves the locals to fight amongst themselves". With corruption and the past history of the horrible reign by Mobutu, the country is already declining, pushing the locals to use power as a means of survival. That power is in the form of a gun or what ever they can get their hands on in form of weaponry. Society itself in this part of the world needs reform as they are using the basic principle of "Desperate measures lead to desperate acts" as a way of life. This article took meo the eye of the storm. Very interesting reporting.

Sara Ghods - Great Falls, Va
Wow! I can't believe Congo is in such bad shape. 4 milion people have died since 1999! But, it is not a surprise that China has such a big influence in Africa, they do have a ton of land and oil fields all over that continent. But, can something really be done? Can the UN really stop all the fighting?!

Kasey Butler - Sterling, Virginia
I think the journalist did a good job on researching how the real weapons trade works. What he did could have been potentially very dangerous for him. I think the situation in the Congo is very sad because the country is so dangerous, corrupt, and chaotic.

Janelle - Chantilly, Virginia
I believe that the UN and our country needs to make it more of our business to police the dealings of power countries like China. It seems to me that China is blatantly ignoring UN regulations by dealing in small arms to African countries. If they feel they can ignore international policies why are they in place? What is the UN's purpose? Stationed in Africa it seems that soldiers are taking out the small dealers by confiscating guns when they really need to be focused on who is supplying guns.

Before reading this article I was completely unaware of the struggles going on in the Congo. After reading the article is made me realize that although we are fighting a war today, our own neighboring countries are fighting as well. What we have done has leaked on to other countries and affected them as well. The article dealt primarily with the issue of the Chinese government supplying fire arms, AK47, in exchange for natural resources.

My personal belief is that sort of trade should be considered unlawful due to the amount of casualties that have accumulated due to fighting in the Congo.

The Chinese government knows what these weapons are being used for and they are allowing it to happen so they can gain goods. I was surprised and sad to read that the death total was higher than that of World War II. I think we should be educated on the conflict of our neighboring countries because we are so quick to think that we are the only ones fighting a war. It is important for us to be aware of the struggles others are facing so we can learn and grow from them.

After seeing this video I'm reminded of what little power the US has - the most influential country in the world. Again, it boils down to power and privilege! China is just another country that is focused on it's own power and greed. The Europeans were their predecessors. Look at how power and privilege ultimately leaves destruction in it's wake.

People need to wake up and realize that this is a global issue! The UN and what it stands for needs to be resolute in its focus to make the world safer. We shouldn't just be pointing fingers at China when what we should be doing is point fingers at ourselves. When we wake up and see that this is a WORLD rather than country specific issue then we can ask: What CAN and ARE we doing about it?

Falls Church, Virginia
It's disturbing to see how ineffective the UN embargo and peacekeeping mission in the Congo are in controlling the flow of weapons to rebel groups. And one can't escape the irony of Chinese arms manufacture Norinco extracting iron ore from mines in the Congo, which makes its way back to the Congo in the form of AK-47's. I can only hope that the recent arrest of Congolese rebel leader General Laurent Nkumba will quell the violence in eastern Congo.

Y Baldwin - College Park, MD
This story is very scary but I am not sure what the UN can do to help. Human nature has its ups and downs. This is for sure a down side.

Arnold - Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania
This is a great work. And of course what China is doing is not acceptable.But, almost everyone seems to express dismay at what the Chinese weapons are doing in Congo. They seem to forget that American (and others') weapons were doing the same in Congo during the Mobutu era. Remember it is the American CIA that helped start all this by helping Mobutu get to power in the first place and do exactly what China is now doing.

amanda - elizabethtown, pa
It isn't surprising to me that the majority of Africa is torn and trapped in violence. European imperialism is what started their downward spiral in the first place. Trying to force their culture and beliefs on the people who didn't want or need could anyone think that it would lead to great things? Creating state boundaries that mix and break apart different nations is like a sick and twisted joke.

Adam Hood - Reston, Virginia
I learned a lot about how fragile the situation is in The Congo. It amazed me how easily you can procure weapons in this country. I think the culprit is China. Most of the AK-47s found in The Congo have come from China, where the weapons can be manufactured for the lowest cost. China is using arms sales as a way to gain access to Africa and its valuable natural resources. I think China's blatant disregard for the UN arms embargo should not go unpunished. Their unwillingness to comply with this embargo has indirectly caused the death of many people. I think China's actions are selfish. They are definitely a negative influence in Africa.

Some new things that I have learned about Congo by reading this article is how this war has torn apart not just the Democratic Republic of Congo, but its neighboring countries have also been dragged into the fight. Another fact I found out is the history of how Congo got it's independence but unlike the United States, once they were freed from the rule of a European power they collapsed from successful assassination attempts, corrupt leadership and a weak governing party. Just by reading this article I am thankful not only that I live in a country on the basis of the pursuit of happiness and freedom; but also how God blessed us with such strong leadership after the American Revolution keeping our country intact. This article that was written by Benjamin Parker goes not so much to the meaning behind the war in the Congo but more into the details of the Chinese government supplying ammunition and firearms in exchange for goods not naturally found within their own country. What surprises me is that death toll from this conflict in Congo is the highest since WWII, but even more surprising is the reason behind China supplying munitions. My first guess was that China is taking steps toward possible colonization of not only the Congo but seven other African countries that are trading partners with China. What I'm learning from this conflict is while the reason for starting this conflict was because ethnic cleansing, horrible as that might sound, provides China with an easy target to pray upon and possibly take over in the future. It seems like a perfect way for China to uphold the old communist ways of spreading Communism throughout the world, and it couldn't come at a time more opportune than this with communist run governments already on every continent except Africa, Australia, or Antarctica (which doesn't really count). Whatever China may be planning, the global community must try to come together and try to provide ways of stopping the conflict before any more bloodshed occurs. That's the only way the Democratic Republic of Congo can ensure its own survival.

Washington, DC
While I was aware of the unrest in this part of the country, I never knew the extent of the hostility. The Democratic Republic of Congo, with all its natural resources, has the potential of prosperity if they could only do away with the violence and join together through a singular national pride. Unfortunately, the temptation of ultimate power and the greed of individual men deprive this country of a promising future.

Fairfax, VA
The article and video were both interesting and informative. What I was unaware of was that the Congo's weapons had a connection with China. What I found out was that Chinese oil companies have invested largely in Guinea, Nigeria, and Sudan. The private companies are controlled by high-ranking military and government officials, and their weapons production is a state secret. It was disturbing to read this and see the video. I wish that there was more regulation in Congo. I think that it is the job of the United Nations to maintain a sense of security in all countries, and for that to happen, the violence and devastation in Congo needs to come to an end. Innocent people fear for their lives because of rebel fighters.

I didn't care before I knew about Congo, and I certainly do not care now that I've learned about it. It is unfortunate that innocent civilians have to suffer, but that's the world, and whoever thinks otherwise needs to grow up. The violence existed long before China provided weapons. And even if guns aren't supplied, with a little more effort, knives and other weapons can still accomplish the same task of removing whoever is in your way.

Before reading this article, I had a hazy idea of the Congo being somewhere in the huge African continent. I didn't really think of the people and circumstances, much less a situation like this. Now I know where the Congo is and some of the problems there. In order to take what it wants, China is leaving many people in danger by bartering with guns. It distresses me that a country would do this - don't they know what situation they're forcing on many people? It would be much better if China traded with essential items, such as food, money, or clothing.

Leesburg, VA
The U.S. Government should be held more accountable in its dealings with China. We borrow money from China in order to pay for oil in Saudi Arabia which in turn leads to China developing banks and other projects in Africa. It's amazing that this is cyclical and no one wants to do anything about it.

Vienna, VA
This report does a good job of identifying one of the many problems that besiege the Congo or DRC. The easy availability of weapons, specifically the AK-47, in the Congo highlights the ongoing conflict within the region and country and reinforces the difficulty in bringing the conflict to a close. The comment from Peter Batchelor, the U.N.'s leader for small arms and disarmament affairs, was a surprise to me. China has become a major exporter of weapons, especially the AK-47. It appears clear that until world focus on the flow of weapons into the region is stopped, not much peacekeeping progress can be made. In addition, it was surprising the ease with which the reporter was able to purchase a weapon as a foreigner. (Based on a related story in National Geographic on Congo, the reporter overpaid for the weapon.) China's efforts to secure resources and access in Africa should be a cause for concern in U.S. policy, but represents only one of many troubling activities by the Chinese government.

Benjamin Parker had set out to found out where the AK-47 (Automat Kalashnikov) has caused the most damage and why? It seems that the Congo was number one on his list. The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) is in bad need of help. The rebels (FDLR) are against the people of the country and China wants to build a trust with the Congo so that they can strip the country of its natural resources for its own gain. China wants to and has already started mining the country for its iron ore. Norinco is a small arms manufacturer and getting iron at a cheap rate to make guns for the world is very profitable for china's company. China has created a relationship with Congo so that they sell the rebels the AK-47 and in return China can come into the country and mine. Why China? It seemed that China makes the cheapest AK-47. It also easy for China to get the gun to the Congo because of a third party country that imports them. The United Nations Peace army is really no match for the growing numbers of the FDLR. The numbers of the FDLR are in the 1,000's and I'm sure they are still growing. It was reported that upwards of 4 million people have died in the Congo do to the FDLR since 1998. These numbers are just as high as the numbers reported in WWII. Something really needs to be done about this. I believe the Congo military is just as corrupt as the FDLR. As in the video we saw the military officer tell Benjamin where he could go and buy the guns. Why not go in and take over as an army? Other army forces should step in to stop this murdering of the people as well as the country.

Sterling, VA
I was surprised to find these trades were able to go on despite the U.N. embargo. Although it does not appear to directly affect the world on a larger scale, it affects the quality of life for residents in Congo and such countries and continues to help destabilize the region. I feel the super powers need to step up and put pressure on countries who support these actions.

- reston, va
At the end of the article Mr. Pauker wonders if China is trading with Africa in a mutually beneficial matter or if they are taking from Africa and allowing what they have left to be fought over. I believe by not complying with the UN's attempts to stabilize this region China is blatantly undermining progress in this region. Therefore China is purposefully turning a blind eye to an obviously deteriorating situation. Due to that fact I believe that China is dealing with Africa in small arms in order to gain trust so that in the future they will have control over Africa's natural resources.

reston, VA
This article does not shock me at all. This problem is very much so in our own back yard, and maybe it's not as bad but there are many people with illegal posession of guns here in the states. I feel that all guns should only be manufactured by the military so they can monitor the sales, or raise the prices dramatically, like the gas problem. This of course will not stop fire arms from getting in the hands of a criminal or the average every day citizen but it will lower the number.

I found Pauker's article to be very interesting and educating. I did not know much about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), nor of the problems that its people face. I was surprised by the outrageous amount of deaths that have occurred in the area since 1998 and about the problems that continue. I was not surprised that most of the small arms entering the DRC were from China, since China is expected to surpass the United States as the world's largest manufacturer by next year and is often accused of illegal trade practices. I found it interesting to see the author deal with three different military forces within one country: the UN Peacekeepers; the DRC Army; and the FDLR rebel forces. The country was visibly fractured into different areas controlled by forces with different objectives. While the UN Peacekeepers were doing what they could to control the flow of small arms into the country; the DRC Army Colonel and his men openly took the author to an FDLR rebel area to purchase an illegal weapon.
Let us hope that there is a solution in sight to the problems faced by the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Herndon, Virginia
It is amazing, but not surprising that DRC is attractive to world powers, such as China. DRC has something they want, natural resources. It is history repeating itself. A weak nation has lush resources, so a more powerful/stable country finds a way to attain those resources. They can declare war outright, or they can undermine peace-keeping organizations and supply the powerless with weapons, in the hopes they will implode on themselves. China chose the later.

Before watching this video, I had no idea the major impact China was having on the Congo. The fact that China is selling these weapons for cheaper prices compared to European or Russian manufactures surprises me because it seems like China is aiding the rebel forces in the Congo and encouraging them to separate their own country. Another thing that shocked me was the death toll in this country which is the highest it's ever been since World War II. I find this issue very frightening because I can foresee this happening in other small countries in the world that are having civil disputes. After watching this video, I realized that many smaller countries feel intimidated by larger countries especially China because of their size and power.

Although I have always heard of the violence in this area, I never really thought about where the weapons came from in the first place. The origin(s) of these weapons have just as much of a role into the millions of deaths that occur here. It is so sad to see this vicious cycle being repeated over and over again. Understanding that the government is far from stable, I hope one day this could all end and the citizens of this region can prosper in a new life; a life where the people can live without fear and be saved from starvation. It is tragic to see such careless acts, such as manufacturing of countless weapons, and to just deposit them without thinking of the long term affects.

Brittan Orr - Purcellville, Va
"...the country boasts a surfeit of natural resources, but its wealth has been a blessing and a curse." That statement describing the Democratic Republic of Congo was said by Benjamin Pauker, the author of the article Arming Africa, and a young man with an inquisitive mind. One simple question to Peter Batchelor, the U.N.'s leader for small arms and disarmament affairs, lead Pauker to travel to several different countries. Pauker's question, "Where have simple guns like the AK-47 inflicted the most damage?" Batchelor responded, "Congo." Pauker had such a desire to know about the world around him and to see how he could help, that he took the next plane to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. If the world had more people like him, we wouldn't be faced with the conflicts that we have now. When Pauker's plane landed, he described the setting as chaotic and a microcosm, as if he had landed in a whole different world. Africa is tens of thousands of miles away from the U.S., but they are still people with families that are living in horrific conditions that need our help. Since 1998, there have been over 4 million deaths in Congo. On March 19, 2003, the war on Iraq began and the death toll has now reached 4,152 casualties in the American military alone. That is an exceedingly high number, especially when it's the number of deaths that we have had in our own country. But, compared to 4 million deaths, it's barely even a fraction. The deaths in Congo are an indirect result from the countries being, "awash in small arms." The majority of the deaths are a result of disease and deprivation, not gun fire. But, guns do carry enormous weight, being so far away from any form of protective government, guns can "...provide money, food, sex and shelter. And Eastern Congo is flooded with weapons." The country is so flooded, that Pauker effortlessly purchased an AK-47, the weapon of choice for most because it's cheap, durable, and lethal. These guns have been famously trafficked since the fall of the Soviet Un ion, but as Pauker notices, the "... guns fueling conflicts in Africa are coming from a new source, China... If the arms flow stopped then the militia would be under great pressure and the U.N. could make a big difference in extending state authority." The only issue is that no one knows how the arms are being smuggled across the border. In hopes of finding the answer, Pauker then flew to China, only after he tried making arrangements with Norinco and Poly Group, two of China's major arms manufactures. After a week of dead ends, he gave up on the factories and found himself in a military-backed arms research laboratory. There, he asked a retired engineer to help him identify his gun's origin. The man sighed, "Oh, this is an old one, so it's hard to tell. It's probably a Poly Group gun, but we've made so many millions over the years." Pauker then realized that he'd never be able to find out where his gun had come from.

Ashburn, Virginia
This article was fascinating due to the historical link it provided between China and Africa. It is interesting to learn of the ties and international connections in exsistence in other countries other than our own.

I found the article to be disturbing, as the arms for resources trade seems very entrenched, with the UN forces unable at this time to stop the influx of illegal arms. It is troubling to see a world power like China engaged in a practice that can only serve to increase violence in a country that has suffered four million casualties since 1998.

This article and its accompanying video were fascinating to me, because I have always lacked knowledge about Africa in general, let alone Congo. It saddens me to learn about a country that has and continues to experience intense violence and hate among its peoples. What makes Congo's story sadder is the fact that one if its top providers of weapons, China, has the resources to help this down-trodden country. As Rodney Winser, part of the UN Congo mission, says in the Frontline video, "If the arms flow stopped, there is no doubt that the militia would come under pressure, and then we could really make a difference in extending state authority." I would love to see this happen, so that even a minute bit of peace and restoration might slowly settle in Congo.I realize that China is not the only guilty party involved in providing arms to Congo. However, China is one of the world's superpowers, and it continues to be up-and-coming. The 2008 Olympics were recently hosted in Beijing, and it cost more than any other Olympic games in history: roughly 40 billion dollars. If China can afford to spend this much money for entertainment purposes, then I have to believe that they can afford to aid Africa and its struggling countries. This is especially true for Congo, a country I was surprised to learn has experienced the most casualties of any country since World War II.
Instead of selling Congo arms, China should invest in companies that produce food, clothing, and hardware for homes. These non-harmful materials could be put to good use in Congo, and if Congo accepted these items as trade, then Africa's natural resources could continue to be available to the Chinese. After all, what good is gaining valuable resources for your own country if you are hurting another in the process? That kind of relationship among countries makes no sense to me.

I was born in Uvira . I left a month before the war started , and everytime I watch documentaries like this one , my heart bleeds. But i'm still hoping for a better tomorrow for my people . As far as China is concerned , my question is , will they treat us just as bad as the europeans did ? or ...?

sanfranciscosearcher - san francisco, ca
This is a well-reported, revealing story about China's "merchant of death" policies in Congo. But it gets worse: the Chinese government has also been arming Mugabe's repressive regime in Zimbabwe.
A load of Chinese weapons bound for Zimbabwe this spring (2008) was turned back by South African dockworkers when the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, tried to unload its cargo in Durban. The dockworkers feared that Mugabe would use the weapons in his violent crackdown on the opposition which had defeated him at the polls.

Matthew Smith - Ashburn, VA
I continue to imagine an Africa where the people have enough fortitude and pride to stand up for themselves as a group. Throughout history, Africans have been herded and preyed upon. I wonder how much longer they will allow themselves to play the world's victim. These guns are coming into Africa, not as a poison pill. They are coming by request. A man thinks his gun will gain him power and respect. From a vantage point outside the immediate conflict zone, this is absurd. Granted, I did not know China was such a major player in Africa. It certainly makes sense, though. China is growing and needs resources. Africa either does not know how or refuses to leverage these resources appropriately to better themselves on the whole.

This article was written by Benjamin Pauker and is about his findings when traveling to Africa in order to find out more on the arms trade and rebel forces. He is placed in danger as he visits United Nations forces and learns about the armed forces and the guns that have been confiscated by the United Nations. He then even met with a general in charge of a rebel force to buy and AK-47. Although in severe danger, he manages to purchase the gun in order to find where the guns were coming from to this rebel force. With the guidebook that the United Nations uses he was able to determine that the gun came from china. From talking with other U.N. leaders in Congo and people who worked with them he found out that the rebel forces are purchasing these guns from China because they are cheaper than Russian or other European guns.
I was very interested in this article. I was surprised to find out that this conflict in Congo has the greatest death toll since World War Two. I had no idea that the violence in Africa was this serious and that civil war still continued. Benjamin Pauker is a brave man for doing what he did to bring us this information. I do not think that I could ever buy an AK-47 from a rebel force in the Congo, or even go to the Congo. I hope that the U.N. is able to find out more about how the Chinese are smuggling these guns across the Congo border for the sake of the people in Africa.

Fairfax, VA
When watching the video and reading the article, I wondered if the militias (and the government) traded the arms among themselves as well. Obviously the arms are used during the militia conflicts, but they have to be doled out in some way. What kinds of deals do the militias have to make to get the arms? Secondly, it seems to be a chicken and egg scenario. Do those with guns have more power, or do you have to have strong government ties to get the guns in the first place? Finally, because Congo is a landlocked country, it would be difficult to find any other industry that could be funded without having to deal in illegal trading with China. Also, the levels of mistrust among the Congolese population itself, and the mistrust of outsiders (which is definitely warranted) are going to keep predatory nations coming to the Congo to trade. Unfortunately, this is indicative of other underdeveloped nations as well.

Matt Tisdale - Reston, VA
Roddy Winser part of the UN Congo Mission makes a good point, "Show me a factory in DRC that produces AK -47's, they don't exist. Everything that comes in here is coming from outside." No one has the right to point fingers at China for profiting off the Congolese militias, they are simply supplying a demand; if they didn't someone else would. Some UN officials talk as though stopping the flow of guns would halt conflict. I'm sorry to say, but that's just childish and highlights one of the reasons why most of the UN's policies are wrong. The problem lies in Africa itself. Whether they have AK's or machetes ,Africans are going to find a way to kill each other, so why not profit off the inevitable. The UN has 16,500 troops trying to control the crazies accounting for the largest peacekeeping mission to date. There could be many more first world countries on that continent, but the people are too corrupt. Rather than exporting the resources and importing jobs, the few that become "king of the mountain" siphon the money into their pockets and say screw the country. That's the African Dream. It is human nature to rebel; these areas just have higher concentrations of those people on a slippery slope. Other developed nations should stop wasting their taxpayers money in trying to fix Africa, it's too far gone. The Chinese have the right idea, sell them weapons and let them sort it out!

Before watching this video I only thought I knew things about Africa, I had no idea that the Congo was such a vicious, cold, and corrupt place in the world. The amount of weapons that they collected is not surprising, but it was a little shocking to see that they were getting the weapons from China, I had no idea that China was in this movement. This was interesting, it informed me on a matter that I obviously knew so little about.

I was well aware of the fact that many parts of the countries in Africa are still heavily in volved in war. However, I was not aware of how easy it was to receive the weapons that were used. To think that China and other outside countries are secretly supplying Congo with machine guns is very disturbing. The guns that they are supplying to the rebel forces are being used to take innocent lives and are used to force people to give the rebels what they want, which is exactly what China is doing as well. By giving guns to Africa, China is getting things in return. It just amazes me that there is no remorse for all of this. People have chances to do the right thing for others sake, or they can do the wrong thing and get personal gain from it.

reston, va
I was shocked that China would take advantage of such a vulnerable country. But then when I thought about their relationship with their own people, it no longer surprises me. It appears China will do any thing to gain world dominance. Unfortunately I fear that if China weren't doing it, Al-Queda would move in. This article should be viewed as a wake up call to the western countries.

Calvin Kao - Great Falls, VA
This article was extremely informative and intriguing. It cleared up a few myths and straightened out many of my previous beliefs. I did not realize how easy and accessible weapons were in the country, as the reporter obviously showed he could easily buy an automatic rifle for just one hundred U.S. dollars. I also was extremely shocked by the sheer amount of weapons I saw in the video. I usually associate AK-47s with Russia and the Cold War. I did not expect the trail to lead to China. This country, a half a world away from Africa, is the mass supplier of the weapons and one of the main reasons why the country is in the state that it is in. I believe that reparations should be made by the countries who contributed to this mess, mainly China. Stricter regulations on the importations of the weapons should be enforced, and heavier penalties and fines for the importation of the weapons should be regulated.

washington, dc
China's role in the Democratic Republic of Congo is certainly deplorable and actions should be taken to block the flow of weapons, however, we should not be surprised by this situation as it is simply a case of supply and demand where the bottom line is more important than morality. China is simply trying to extract resources and turn a profit with no regard for the tribal conflicts or human rights atrocities that result. The US should certainly take actions to stop this situation. This is highly unlikely, however, because we would first have to admit our own similar actions throughout history and our own disregard for civilizations or environments left in the wake of our financial endeavors.

This article showed me that the Congo has a long history of violence. This was a fact that I was previously unaware of. I knew of rebels in the Congo but I did not know the extent of the violence. The country is being supplied with weapons that will only increase the violence and murder rate in the already grief stricken country. I was glad to hear that the United Nations has noticed the problem. However, I am disappointed that they were doing far too little to help solve such a big problem. Many people are getting murdered and while the United Nation troops are helping fight the rebels they are not focusing on stopping the supply of weapons being leaked into the country. There are not enough precautions to prevent future violence. The only thing being solved is the momentary spurts of violence throughout the country and not even all of those are being taken care of. There should be more effort put into trying to stop the incoming of weapons into the Congo. The United Nations has never tried to find out who is sending the weapons to the Congo nor have they tried to stop it. It seems that the problem has been allowed to go on far too long. Now the solution will require more than what the United Nations troops can supply.

Reston, VA
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation steeped in political manipulation. China has been supplying weapons to Congo and the surrounding countries in an effort to, not only turn a profit, but also create an ongoing source of revenue. By supplying these weapons, China guarantees itself a major source of weapons purchases. China should provide humanitarian support in the form of food, health care, and educational services instead of the infamous AK-47.

Centreville, VA
At the end of the Frontline piece, Pauker asked if the Chinese were there to help the region or to help themselves. Countries like China are using third parties to get guns into the Congo despite the bans set up by the government. China's whole purpose of selling guns into this region is so that they can have access to resources, most notably mining. This area has a wealth of resources that have been exploited all throughout history, and China's role is no different. The Chinese government knows and understands that in order to gain power themselves, they provide those that help them with the power that they need. The power of the gun in the Congo region has led to forced mining of gold, coltan, timber, and iron, as well as a huge increase in the amount of women and children being raped and genitally mutulated. Power always comes at a cost, but innocent peoples' lives should never be one of them.

shanghai, China
Only you Westerners can sell weapons to Africans, because you believe it is right. One thing you should know is that the sadness of Africa is brought by European colonialism and American slavery; don't feel you are higher than we Chinese, you murderers.I totally believe it that one day we can be stronger and richer than you. Only fools have racial discrimination.

There is no mention of Western governments and corporations who are clandestinely behind this conflict and continue to profit from it. If I didn't already study this conflict then I'd be reading this article thinking only China was guilty. The West is guilty as much as China is. Plus UN soldiers are also accused of trading arms with rebels.

Dallas, Texas
I have been well aware of the smuggling of arms into various Africa nations, but I had been under the general assumption that this was done mostly by "gunrunners", as they are called. The fact that corporations from China, and perhaps even the government of China itself are fueling these conflicts disturb me greatly. History has shown how little care the powers of the world have had for the African nations and their people, and only for the spoils that the continent could offer to better their commerce. Ivory, rubber, gold, diamonds, oil, and many other natural resources have been the plight of developed nations within Africa for hundreds of years. When a developed country such as China, one of the largest economic forces in the world, uses the turmoil in Africa to their own advantage, it undoes much of what has been tried to correct the problem. China, by selfishly using Africa's problems to its own benefit, is in a metaphorical sense reopening a wound that is just beginning to heal. Until every developed nation stands united to stop this bloodshed, it will not stop, and people will continue to die needlessly.

Scott - Allen, Texas
I never hear of stories like this one in America. My reaction is not so much toward what is going on in the Congo, which is terrible, but the fact that no one in America ever receives information like this through mainstream media. All of the secrecy of the illegal activities of governments is ridiculous, because one's country can prosper through regular legal activity. To fuel warfare simply to earn what amounts to a few pennies for a government is just horrendous. China must be confronted at the United Nations about their violation of the UN Arms Embargo, but I'm sure "for some reason" nothing will change.

Brandon Pekarek - Allen, TX
First of all, this story greatly surprised me. I had no idea that a country like China would facilitate illegal small arms trade just to strengthen their economic ties with Africa. Later on I realized that this was perfectly plausible, if a country with a need for raw materials can satisfy another countries' need for small arms then why not continue stimulating the guerrilla factions with this trade? China needs these resources and it sees that the Congo is perhaps the easiest to manipulate due to the frequent outbursts of fighting and the relative disunity of the country, but in the long run will China really benefit from destroying another country?

The sale of small arms can be seen as one of the most destabilizing forces in the modern political minefield that is Africa. If the first world is now effectively handing out weapons to poorer Third World counties, civilization is seemingly failing in its duty to the rest of humanity. The impoverished of the world are kept at an even greater disadvantage by the violence these weapons bring into their communities. Unless the bottom line becomes less important than the plight of our fellow man, there is no solution for third world crises in sight.

Allen, Texas
That is very interesting that people in Africa are dependent (or so it would seem) on trade from China. I mean, I know that Americans get much of our completed goods from China but it's interesting and upsetting at the same time to see Africans dealing in arms from countries like China. It is also upsetting that countries like China would take advantage of the need and want for weapons in Africa to boost their own trade. Who knows, trade like that may not be illegal in China and so the government tries to find ways to get weapons to other countries that would give them money; power to the highest bidder, or power to the man with the bigger weapon. It just seems saddening that Africa may be having other peoples tear it apart for its resources and disrupt once again, the unity that may be beginning to be restored.

I had no idea that there was so much violence in the Congo still going on. In America, we hear about so little of it except that which directly affects us and our people. Our news media makes a huge deal of a couple thousand American deaths over a period of a few years, which, while still tragic, pales in comparison to the average of over 400,000 a year in the Congo over the past nine or ten years. As far as China being the main supplier now, it makes sense to me that they can produce the guns for cheaper than anyone else because they are capable of this with so many of their other products, as well. When I think about it, it does make sense that relations with some of the groups in the country, formed by supplying weapons, could then be taken advantage of to offer more opportunities for trade to the Chinese. Also, it is logical that offering weapons shows trust, since you are handing people the means to seriously wound or kill you and trusting that they will have the courtesy not to (or at least not have the motivation to do so). However, I am appalled that the practice would continue when it is so obviously an extremely significant problem that could be simply remedied, especially when the UN (of which China is a leading member) has already placed an arms embargo on the country.

Austin Piper - Allen, Texas
I found this story very intriguing, but also a little disheartening. It is understandable that a country (China) would want to increase its trade with a country rich in natural resources (the Congo), but to do so by illegal small arms trade? And not only are these guns being illegally traded in the Congo, but they are fueling civil warfare and hindering the unity of the Congo. Once again, it is understandable that a country would want to benefit from trade with another country, but to get their foot in the door by illegally selling AK-47's that end up being used by these guerilla factions, China must ask themselves if the means they are going about increasing trade with the Congo are ethical. Or do they care? Also, is China increasing trade with the Congo to benefit their own economy and that of the Congo, or are they seeking to exploit the Congo and its natural resources? Africa is still suffering the effects of being divided up at a [19th century] convention full of European delegates (not one African present) based on natural resources instead of tribes. Let's hope that Africa will not be exploited once again for natural resources.

Stephen Law - Fort Worth, Texas
To me, it seems that China with their gigantic population, and unquenchable need for resources, will continue to move from country to country. One by one methodically sucking, draining, robbing, and depleting the resources desperatly needed by these poor African countries who can't even sustain or create a stable economic enviroment for themselves, let alone a huge country like China. The sad thing is that when the resources dry up in one country, they'll move on to the next, leaving the previous country far worse off than they found it. What's more is that there won't be any more resources left over to base a new economy on. The Chinese government doesn't care that these AK-47's that they market to local rebel militias, warlords, and other guerrilla factions are using them in a destructive manner. In other words, China is fueling these fires, instead of trying to exstinguish them. Thank you for shedding some light on how easily these weapons of war are aquired, where they are manufactured, who's using them, and who's mostly responsible for it.

Joon Kim - Lubbock, TX
The rifle that Benjamin bought in Congo shows the year of production in Korean, not in Chinese. I was wondering if North Korea was involved in smuggling the AK's. If that's the case, the story will be more complicated.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Thank you for spotting this. We used the wrong photo to accompany Benjamin Pauker's article and have now replaced it. The AK-47 that Pauker purchased in the Congo was indeed a Chinese-manufactured weapon.

The AK-47 with the Korean markings that you spotted was another in a United Nations cache of weapons recovered from militias in Congo's northeastern Ituri region. Despite the Korean markings on one part of the rifle, UN troops told Pauker it, too, was of Chinese origin.

Frequently, small arms--like this AK-47--have markings designating both the country of manufacture and the country of receipt. Also, in many cases, Pauker found weapons with various interchangeable parts cobbled together from different countries. And, to add to the confusion and difficulty in tracking these weapons, occasionally there are no markings at all--or governments sometimes stamp markings designating other factories and countries of origin to obscure total production figures and disguise weapons headed for conflict zones.

The bottom line is that Chinese-made AK-47s are turning up in large numbers in the eastern Congo. But to answer your question about North Korea: Yes, North Korea also manufactures and smuggles AK-47s.

Powerful story and so informative about the increasing role of China and their influence in the world. Tragic that arms trade triggers so much despair and death in a country needing so much.

Buffalo, NY
No news network or TV investigative show dares to examine the armament merchants who play a large part in driving and extending wars.Start with the US death manufacturers in unmarked factories turning out guns knowing full well they will end up in the hands of urban youth. Every gun picked by police should be reported on-line along with the name of the manufacturer, and the city it was made in. I want to know what American-made guns end up in foreign wars. Armaments is the most secret commerce with almost no investigation. I'm hoping Bill Moyer will do a segment. He's about the bravest journalist we have.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
The very first story we did on FRONTLINE/World in May 2002 was called "Gunrunners," an investigation of arms smuggling into Sierra Leone during the civil war there. You can see it here and read our web reporting about a rogue's gallery of international traffickers in small arms.

Tom Westerman - West Hartford, CT
Very interesting and not a little scary. The ease with which a person can buy a gun should prove that the world leaders and governments must look at the micro-level and not just the macro.

Jack Rice - Minneapolis, MN
As a correspondent who has traveled to many conflict zones around the world, I have seen how difficult it can be to get this close to underground smuggling operations. Ben's piece shows, sadly, just how simple it is to do just that in a place like the DRC. Great work!

Incisive, fresh, utterly unnerving work. Thank you for this gutsy, important piece. The passage of one fraught object, between countries, between hands.

Ruben O'Malley - Brooklyn, NY
I've seen where some AK's end up in Africa, they are an essential part of the tragedy in Darfur, in marriage negotiations (as a deadly currency), and have turned children into adults in the seconds it takes to stare down the barrel of one or poke one in a person's face. Their lethal perfection has reshaped conflict and been the essence of liberation movements and self determination all over the world. They teach us that the tools of violence will devolve to those who wield them and are a microcosm of power corrupting. All that soapboxing is really a way of saying that small arms are probably the most deadly threat to states, people and human civilization. Since people somewhere profit from turning men and women into killers, I think it's high time that those profiteers be held accountable, and the piece's specificity is key to that process. I applaud Ben and Caitlin's work here and I hope that it is a small step towards limiting arms sales (by anyone) and reducing conflict while calling to task those who benefit from murder and it's tools.

I was part of a very small contingent of advisors to Nuba Mountains in Central-southern Sudan in support of the cease fire agreement between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the government of Sudan (GOS). The war had reached its 19th year. Weapons of all kinds were apparent, including the ever so popular AK-47. Many very young SPLA soldiers carried the weapon. Many times, the weapon was longer/taller than the teenage soldier. When taking a break, all the AK's would be placed up against the tree. I termed it the "AK-47" tree. Yes, weapons are easier to come by in Africa than food. But, it seems the continent is in continuous turmoil based in part because of the proliferation of weapons and the lawless "I don't care about the people" attitude.
I like the AK -- not a precise weapon, but lots of firepower. I used one in Afghanistan less than a year later as backup.

Nathan Salsburg - Louisville, Kentucky
Refreshingly concise, free of pedantry, tightly edited, and wholly disconcerting. Is there not space on the six o'clock news, between the slinging of incontinence medication and "human interest" absurdity, for this kind of thoughtful and very necessary reportage?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
We've asked ourselves that very same question.

As for what has befallen TV news, we suggest that you may want to watch Frontline's recent "What's Happening to the News," the 3rd episode of the "News War" series. That documentary begins with a critique of television news programs.

John Cowl - North Pemhroke, MA
A thoughtful and frightening but not surprising piece. Whether it has been the repeatedly misguided and misdirected efforts of the USA to intrude into foreign affairs or China's seeking to expand its influence using similar techniques that continues to cripple the world is a discussion better left to polemicists. The truth is that only when we (human beings) make it a priority to help lift all people suffering from squalor and hopelessness will things change. When people are healthy, well-educated, and are able to see a horizon of hope for themselves and their families, there will no longer be fertile petri dishes for producing tyrants and their followers across the world. Good job Ben.

new york, ny
Wow. Enlightening piece. This piqued my interest in the subject.

San Francisco, CA
This is a courageous look into a topic I feel few people know much about. I'm interested in learning more about the Chinese angle and the factories that are supplying these weapons. Reminiscent of Darwin's Nighmare but with a more raw and exposed feel.

New York, NY
I really loved it!

marta Edmisten - Brooklyn, NY
Wow! Really mind blowing. Wonderful reporting.

David Taylor - Murphysboro, IL
Finding 1 - Due to the continuing legacies of its Cold War policies toward Africa, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the cycles of violence and economic problems plaguing the continent. Throughout the Cold War (1950-1989), the U.S. delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients - Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) - have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.
Finding 2 - The ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is a prime example of the devastating legacy of U.S. arms sales policy on Africa. The U.S. prolonged the rule of Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Soko by providing more than $300 million in weapons and $100 million in military training. Mobutu used his U.S.-supplied arsenal to repress his own people and plunder his nation's economy for three decades, until his brutal regime was overthrown by Laurent Kabila's forces in 1997. When Kabila took power, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support by developing a plan for new training operations with the armed forces.
Finding 3 - Although the Clinton administration has been quick to criticize the governments involved in the Congo War, decades of U.S. weapons transfers and continued military training to both sides of the conflict have helped fuel the fighting. The U.S. has helped build the arsenals of eight of the nine governments directly involved in the war that has ravaged the DRC since Kabila's coup. U.S. military transfers in the form of direct government-to-government weapons deliveries, commercial sales, and International Military Education and Training (IMET) to the states directly involved have totaled more than $125 million since the end of the Cold War.

Jim Brown - Norwich, VT
This is an excellent, succinct work, that answers a question I've wondered about for years. Who manufactures and supplies these weapons that form the basis for most of the deadliest terror and fighting in 3rd world countries?