What is the value of Canada’s annual arms exports?

Conventional Weapons, News

In a highly connected, digital age when it is possible to track people and packages across the planet in real-time one would be forgiven for thinking that Canadian officials should be able at leisure to monitor military exports and report their value. Not so. In fact, not even close. There is not a single person anywhere, government official or otherwise, who can accurately report the volume and value of military goods that leave Canada during any time period.

Every year a wide range of figures are reported for Canadian military exports. These come from a number of reputable sources, including – may I say – Project Ploughshares. Recent figures vary from a low of $285-million to a high of $5-billion per year, as shown in the table.  None of the figures is correct, although it is obvious from the range that some must be much closer to the mark than others.

 Annual value
of arms exports
 Source   Period
 $285 million  SIPRI Yearbook 2011  2006-2010
 $475 million  DFAIT Report on Export of Military Goods  2007-2009
 $1,100 million  US Congressional Research Service  2007-2010
 $3,350 million  Project Ploughshares  2007-2009
 $5,000 million  Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries  2009

The unique approach of each source to measuring the value of Canadian arms exports explains the variation in the reported figures. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) compiles the value of exports of major conventional weapons systems.

Because Canada does not export large volumes of such systems, the value reported by SIPRI is relatively small. The figures reported by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) are based on the exports of military goods on Canada’s Export Control List. The DFAIT report doesn’t include exports of these goods to the U.S., however, despite it being Canada’s largest customer. The Congressional Research Service of the U.S. Congress uses military trade data from U.S. government sources but does not reveal how the data is compiled. Project Ploughshares adds DFAIT figures to estimates of exports to the U.S. derived from military prime contract data of the Canadian Commercial Corporation. Finally, the CADSI figure of $5-billion is based on the value of “defence and security” exports compiled from the association membership.

The differing methodologies mean that we cannot make comparisons to arrive at a more accurate picture of the value of military goods exported by Canada. The only thing we can say with certainty is that figures published by the government are wrong because – at a minimum – they are incomplete. Perhaps it’s time that export control officials developed an app to follow weapons exports.

For more, see Gaps and Omissions: Canada’s arms exports 2007-2009 by Kenneth Epps

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