If you’re a profit-driven criminal like an arms dealer, what’s your motive when you align with insurgents against a government? Unless they’re on the verge of collapse, doesn’t it always make more business sense to side with the people running the country?
The problem with selling to the nation itself is two-fold. First, the nation already has an arms dealer, and second, you don’t have enough stock to keep them happy.
The first problem is a function of geopolitics. If you pick a lesser developed country on the map, chances are extremely good that the established government already receives arms from an outside source. The three largest arms dealers in the world are the United States of America, The Russian Federation, and The People’s Republic of China.
For example: if you’re trying to arm a small country’s military, and they have about 50k standing troops, you’re not just looking to sell them 50k rifles. You need to sell them several thousand rounds of ammunition per weapon, and suddenly you’re looking at needing to move at least a hundred million rounds of ammunition into the country. On top of that, they need heavy equipment, tanks, aircraft, and replacement parts for all of those systems. So, even if you do find a way to obtain all those resources, it turns out the nation’s already buying ex-Soviet hardware from a foreign nation.
A brief aside about Soviet designs (the AK-47 is the poster child for this, but it’s, mostly, true of nearly all Soviet era military hardware), they’re incredibly easy to build. People can joke about the quality of Soviet era trucks, or the merits of the AR15 pattern rifle, but you can (almost, literally) start commercially producing functional AK47s in a shack out in the wilderness.
So, while the real world example I just cited does buy their arms from the Russians and Ukrainian governments, it’s not that unreasonable for any nation with a marginally developed industrial center, to be able to start turning out cheap, but effective, firearms.
In contrast, as a freelance arms dealer, you’ve got, maybe, a couple thousand Rhodesian FALs. That’s not going to interest the legitimate government, it’s not enough, the quality is too low, and you can’t ramp up the supply to match the demands of an ongoing military conflict. But, if the rebels pay you up front, you can give them enough arms to get started… at that point, it’s not really about arming them for the long haul, it doesn’t matter if they succeed or die, and if they do succeed, maybe, hopefully, they paid you enough to kick some more hardware their way. Or, they die, you got your money, and when the dust settles, you can bribe a few soldiers to hand over a few crates of confiscated arms, wander into the next nation, and start all over again.
Except, that’s not the only possibility. Because it’s quite possible you’re not selling Rhodesian FALs, you’re selling something a little more modern. Maybe they’re M14s, almost factory fresh. When anyone asks where you got them, you give the same answer you would have given with the FALs; you bribed some soldiers to lose a few shipments, but that’s simply not true. What you have is already bought and paid for by another foreign nation, who wants you arming these rebels, wants you stirring the pot, and handed the shipments off to you to start some fireworks. You’re not, “a spy,” that’s far too classy, you’re what you say, “an arms dealer,” but you’re also covertly working for a foreign government’s intelligence agency. Your handler wanders in and tells you who to sell to, and off you go to strike up a new deal.
Freelance arms dealers go to the people who will pay. Rebels with no funds to purchase arms aren’t getting anything on credit. Governments don’t often need arms dealers, and may also be unable to pay.
Arms dealers with backing in the intelligence community aren’t interested in supporting the government; they’re in country to help start and support a proxy war.
When you want to sell weapons to governments, the solution is to get into weapons manufacturing, not gunrunning.
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