Film review for my Political Science class: Lord of War- with regards to political economy of the North & South


Director: Andrew Niccol

Writer: Andrew Niccol

 Nicolas CageEthan HawkeBridget Moynahan


Yuri Orlov in the film “Lord of War” asserts, “Bullets change governments much surer than votes”.(IMDb) While this statement raises numerous moral or philosophical questions, Orlov’s statement is unfortunately a depiction of reality.  The film does a spectacular job in raising issues such as international arms trade, global violence while highlighting North and South issues discussed in class.

Nicholas Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, an American resident from Ukraine who when realizes there is a growing human demand for guns, becomes an international arms dealer. The film is based in Yuri’s journey to becoming the most prolific weapons dealer; scoring business deals with the world’s most dangerous dictators.

Yuri’s first break comes in 1982 during the Lebanon War when he engages in arms trade business with all sides of the conflict despite witnessing crimes and human violations. Yuri’s lucrative endeavors reach Interpol agent Jack Valentine who becomes determined to arrest Yuri although not having tangible evidence to incarcerate him and would not bend the law himself to do so.

He’s second break followed after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. Yuri seizes his golden opportunity through his Uncle Dimitri, (a general in the Red Army) who was capable of gaining access to huge stockpiles of redundant weapons. Expansion to Africa makes Yuri the most successful arms dealer in the wake of the new millennium despite the audiences understanding of his moral and righteous self.

Since the end of the Second World War, millions of people have died in the hands of conventional weapons mostly consisting of small arms such as machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and rifles. (Newman, 2006) Unfortunately, the world tends to pay more attention to advanced weaponry such as fighter jets and modern electronics that aid high-level long-range artillery weaponry rightly so, due to their destructive capability, but forgetting small arms and light weapons remains one of the most prevalent instrument for human killing in the present day.

On facts alone, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) estimate the total number of small arms and light weapons to be at least 875 million with the majority of small arms, in private hands. So why is international arms trade still a predominant topic and a contentious issue on the international agenda?

This is because of three reasons: firstly, small arms are inexpensive, easy to transport, use and conceal, second, their excessive use and accumulation facilitates war-like sentiments in conflict stricken regions and third, because of the growing market of arms trade between countries of the north and countries of the south.

During the cold war, the aggressors; USA and USSR supplied nations with endless amounts of arms weaponry. After the cold war, as occupying countries left these nations, the arms remained leaving politically unstable countries with deadly weaponry at their disposal. As governments tried to establish authority, weapons were used as an instrument to instill order. Civil wars increased in number primarily due to the availability of arms; a phenomenon raised by Yuri when he stated “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” (IMDb)

Conflict stricken areas suffer worst out of arms trafficking as it promotes the market of acquiring weapons and generates war-like sentiments when small conflicts arise. Orlov mentioned, “Without operations like mine it would be impossible for certain countries to conduct a respectable war.” (IMDb)This justifies why arms trade is an issue in our present global society. Yuri in this case was defending arms dealing as a necessary action disregarding the impact war has on human life.

Civil wars are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Africans per day made possible by the availability of weapons. A statement from UNODA states “More than 1,000 companies in about 100 countries are involved in some aspect of small arms production, with significant producers in around 30 countries.”(UNODA) The business of production and trafficking of arms is dominated by developed countries but sold to the poor, developing countries fighting wars. Without demonizing countries of the north, arms trafficking and dealing to the south is the only way companies dealing with the production of weapons can reap economic benefit. If wars seized to exist, there would be no use of small arms and light weapons so the only way to sustain the business, is to promote war. Yuri understood this philosophy and made his primary market Africa. He facilitated “eleven major conflicts involving twenty three countries in less than a decade. A gunrunner’s wet dream.”

The film hit a crucial point that portrays arms trafficking as a global north and south issue when Yuri stated “Thank God there are still legal ways to exploit developing countries.”(IMDb) Yuri sold arms to war stricken countries like the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone and received payments rendered in diamonds or beautiful African women. Violent conflicts plague Africa with impacts on neighboring countries. Making weapons readily available to people with deep ethnic divide and high levels of poverty is basically condemning these countries into a state of eternal war. In my opinion, it is almost hypocritical that the countries that are promoting the disarmament and reduction of arms are the same countries that are funding and supplying African countries with weapons of war.

It is believed civil wars in Africa, perpetuated by these arms producing companies in the developed countries make war last longer which makes archiving peace more difficult. War in Africa becomes less of an issue between the actual partakers of the conflict but and issue between external supporters who supply the arms for war. Liberian dictator Baptiste in the film referred to Yuri as the ‘Lord of War’ as opposed to himself as he realized arms dealers are the force and dictators of wars.

One the other hand, one must understand that there is a demand for arms trafficking. Guns in some parts of the world are a basic need and arms dealers such as Yuri, work towards satisfying that human need. An AK-47 is illegal in Canada but available on the streets for approximately $900 but while illegal in the DRC, an AK-47 retails for as little as $50.( Alpers, Wilson, Rossett) The weapon of choice in the DRC is a gun but its inexpensiveness goes to show the availability of a gun to an ordinary civilian and perhaps gives an understanding to why conflict in the DRC is so prevalent.

The proliferation of weapons in developing countries is an issue to do with global violence that directly affects the developed countries as well. Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) I & II have succeeded in limiting and reducing arms weaponry but it is limited because not all countries in the world are signatories to the treaty. The availability of guns and other small weaponry is crippling developing countries and countries currently at war. It will be up to the collaboration of all countries working towards arms reduction and limitation that true success could be achieved.


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