International Arms Trade Up Ten Percent

file photo
file photo

Published Mar 12, 2018 5:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Continuing the upward trend that began in the early 2000s, the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013-17 was 10 percent higher than in 2008-12, according to new data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The flow of arms increased to Asia, Oceania and the Middle East between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to Africa, the Americas and Europe. The five biggest exporters, the U.S., Russia, France, Germany and China, together accounted for 74 per cent of all arms exports in 2013–17.

A large proportion of land systems such as tanks, and many ships are transported by commercial tonnage. Often submarines and even ocean-going naval vessels don't sail under their own steam, says Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Lighter armored vehicles are sometimes transported by air, but it is more common to put large shipments particularly on ro-ro ships. It's the same with ammunition, it is uncommon for it to be transported by air. It's much cheaper and safer to transport it by ship.”
Arms exports: The U.S. extends its lead

In 2013–17 the U.S. accounted for 34 percent of total arms exports which was a 25 percent increase on the previous five year period and 58 percent higher than those of Russia, the second largest arms exporter. The U.S. supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17, with states in the Middle East accounting for 49 percent.

“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, U.S. arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

Arms exports by Russia have decreased by 7.1 percent, and those of France have increased by 27 percent. France is now the third largest arms exporter, Germany the fourth with German arms exports to the Middle East increasing by 109 percent. China was the fifth largest arms exporter, with Pakistan the main recipient of its arms. There were also large increases in Chinese arms exports to Algeria and Bangladesh. 

The Middle East: Arms imports have doubled 

Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17. Arms imports by states in the region increased by 103 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32 percent of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Wezeman. “Yet the U.S. and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

In 2013–17, Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer, behind India, with arms imports increasing by 225 percent. Arms imports by Egypt, the third largest importer, grew by 215 percent. The United Arab Emirates was the fourth largest importer, while Qatar (the 20th largest arms importer) increased its arms imports and signed several major deals in that period.

Regional tensions drive India’s growing arms imports

India was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2013–17 and accounted for 12 percent of the global total. Its imports increased by 24 percent with 62 percent of imports coming from Russia. However, arms imports from the U.S. rose by 557 percent, making it India’s second largest arms supplier. 

Despite its continuing tensions with India and ongoing internal conflicts, Pakistan’s arms imports decreased by 36 percent. Pakistan accounted for 2.8 percent of global arms imports.

“The tensions between India, on the one side, and Pakistan and China, on the other, are fuelling India’s growing demand for major weapons, which it remains unable to produce itself,” said Wezeman. “China, by contrast, is becoming increasingly capable of producing its own weapons and continues to strengthen its relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar through arms supplies.”

China’s arms imports fell by 19 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17. Despite this, it was the world’s fifth largest arms importer in 2013–17.

As for the illegal arms trade, Wezeman says that it is fairly easy to smuggle arms using ships as they are fairly easy to hide in the large cargo holds on board. “We don't know if what we see is the tip of the iceberg or most of the iceberg when something is found,” he says, noting that serious, reputable shipping companies are unlikely to be involved in taking such risks.

Other notable developments

•    Arms imports by African states decreased by 22 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Algeria accounted for 52 percent of all African imports in 2013–17.
•    Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Total arms imports by states in the Americas decreased by 29 percent in 2013–17 compared with 2008–12. Venezuela’s arms imports fell by 40 percent between the two periods.
•    Imports by states in Europe decreased by 22 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17. Deliveries of advanced combat aircraft from the U.S. will drive import volumes up during the next few years.
•    In 2013–17 China accounted for 68 percent of arms imports by Myanmar, followed by Russia (15 percent).
•    Indonesia increased its arms imports by 193 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Australia was the sixth largest arms importer globally in 2013–17.