Middle Man Unlimited

Times of India 22-3-2001

In all the debates on the Tehelka tapes , the role of the middleman in arms marketing and their modus operandi have not received adequate attention. Given that mystery surrounds their work style, it is but inevitable that incorrect accusations should be bandied about. The middleman is retained by armament firms in India not only to facilitate actual deals but also to generate the market. Indeed, armament firms finance not only most of defence technical journals in the world but also a number of think-tanks of the West. When details of arms transfers are published, it is not the result of any investigative reporting or intelligence operation, but information made available by armament firms to stimulate arms purchases by countries which feel threatened as neighbors of the fist recipient weapons. Similarly, articles comparing performance characteristics of weapons are often based on information supplied by armament firms to promote their own sales and to run down the products and systems of the competitors. This background should help place in context the information war currently being waged in our media on the pros an cons of different armament systems. Unfortunate as this is, armament firms use journalists, civil servants, ex-service officers and even serving officers in uniform and often without their knowledge. Information could be leaked uniform to a reporter about defects in a weapon system whether being evaluated or already purchased through the medium of a middle-level serving officer. The reliability of the source makes the story seem sound. This is what happened with the Bofors system. The underlying idea was that the exposure would lead to blacklisting of the Bofors gun, thus opening the doors to other armament suppliers. A few very senior retired officers too could have been enlisted in this effort. 

The western armament firms which have very sophisticated information warfare capabilities on arms sales have a basic interest in targeting Russia and Israel since they have emerged as the two leading arms suppliers to India. Their campaigns may not be restricted to any one system but could cover a broad front. The British aerospace has an interest in ensuring that India does not consider alternative trainer aircraft. Similarly, western firms are bound to plant stores that the Russian ammunition was substandard. The conduits are some serving officers who will share any information for a price. Major system procurement decisions are not taken at levels below that of a Lt-General or equivalent. However, armament firms cultivate officers at the medium level in the expectation that they would go up to influential levels or at least have access to files. These are all part of the general campaign of armament firms and the middlemen are their field commanders. One arms agent rose to be within the closest circle of advisers of prime minister Morarji desai and another was a family friend of the prime minister. The armament firms  are also likely to make contributions to the political parties as part of their market stimulation tactics. Their investments in out politicians may not always be linked to a particular purchase. Often, these are in the nature of a future market promotional venture. Clearly, the time has come for some rational action here, including perhaps a move to legalize middlemen, so they act through proper channels.