Abstract: Corruption and Transparency in the Global Arms Business, 1870-1914

Jonathan Grant


The manner of the arms acquisitions helps to assess the role played by influence and corruption. We can conceive of a qualitative spectrum for the procurement process with merit and corruption at opposite ends. If weapons were chosen based on the technical superiority of the weapon as professionally determined based on formal field tests, and the formal procedures of contract bidding were duly followed, then merit has won out. At the other end, if political, business, or diplomatic pressures on the system yielded results contrary to merit, then corruption and bribery took precedence. Issues of pricing could occupy an intermediate position in that a lower cost could be a measure of merit, but it could be manipulated by corruption. At times improprieties could and did result in lower prices. The firms cultivated the native officers in the armed forces and offered them a share in the armaments contracts through the payment of commissions or other financial blandishments off the record.