Private arms dealers facilitate sale of arms to governments or other groups, either by acting as agents for manufacturers, or by obtaining their arms directly from manufacturers in the supplying country, or else by purchase of equipment declared surplus or obsolete by the government of that country. Governments experience difficulty in controlling private transactions, which may involve a number of middlemen and the movement of the arms through several countries before reaching their final destination, but this has not prevented the sale of considerable amounts of surplus armaments to such dealers.
At the close of the 1914-18 war, and within the framework of the League of Nations, there were strong suspicions that the role of the arms trade in general, and private arms dealers in particular, were a major cause of war. Since the 1930s, the regulation of the arms trade has not been a major subject of international discussion. After the 1939-45 war, the arms trade was mainly carried on by governments, and the role of the private arms dealers was reduced considerably.
Private arms dealers exist primarily in countries where the economy is not centrally controlled. Less than 5% of the arms trade with the developing countries is in the hands of private dealers and only a very small proportion of these operate without government approval.