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Beyond Viktor Bout: How to stop the next 'Lord of War'

Viktor Bout, the world's most notorious arms trafficker escaped trial for decades by exploiting a patchwork of international laws on arms trade. His case underscores the need for an international Arms Trade Treaty to regulate arms sales and hold "merchants of death" accountable.

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The world’s most notorious arms trafficker, Viktor Bout, finally went to trial in a US court in New York this month. US officials say that Mr. Bout – the real-life villain depicted in the Hollywood movie “Lord of War” – has sold weapons to some of the most ruthless groups, fueling the horrendous conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.

Later, Bout’s network of cargo aircraft allegedly flew mass shipments of small arms to the Taliban during their push to consolidate control over Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Those guns likely remain in the hands of insurgents targeting US and allied soldiers.

Amazingly, his trial in New York will not involve charges resulting from any of those reported activities, much of which violated numerous UN Security Council-imposed arms embargoes. Because of serious gaps in international law, all of these illicit dealings will be off limits. And as reprehensible as Bout’s reported exploits are, he is just a small part of a bigger problem. His case underscores the urgent need for stronger national and international efforts to curb illicit gun running and conventional weapons proliferation.

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