Global Arms Transfers

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2002 Volume 23 Issue 2

Despite differences in reported annual values, all major arms trade data sources1 report a downward trend in global arms transfers since the end of the Cold War (see Figure 1). The global trade began the period with a five-year decline from a high point in 1989 (and higher points still in previous years) to a low in 1994. Worldwide arms transfers then experienced growth to a peak in 1997 that remained below the value of both1989 and 1990 trade. Since 1997 the trade has been in general decline again, with 2000 transfers in particular dropping significantly from those of 1999. (In August the Congressional Research Service in Washington reported a further decline in global arms deliveries for 2001.)

All sources report the United States as by far the largest supplier of weapons with US deliveries by the end of the period equal to or exceeding deliveries by all other suppliers combined. The dominant US role arises in particular from the significant orders for US weapons which followed the 1991 Gulf War and corresponds to a major decline in Russian transfers after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Additional major suppliers include the other permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, UK, France, and China). At the recipient end of the trade, the majority of arms transfers post-Cold War continued to go to developing nations. Within the South, the portion of arms deliveries to the Middle East and Asia grew during the period while deliveries to Latin America and Africa declined.

Overall, global arms transfers declined by at least 27 per cent (and by as much as 50 per cent according to one source) during the 12-year period, reflecting a general contraction in the arms market brought on by the end of the Cold War. Fluctuations in global transfers, especially since 1994, suggest that this may not be a continuing trend, however.

1 Figure 1reports total worldwide arms transfers (deliveries) from three recognized sources of arms trade data. These are:

a) World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1999-2000, published by the US Department of State, Bureau of Verification and Compliance in October 2001 (WMEAT). The figures of the chart are taken from Table II, p. II-1;

b) the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993-2000,” published in August 2001 (CRS). The figures for global arms deliveries are taken from Table 9A, p. CRS-77;

c) the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2001: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, published by Oxford University Press in 2001 (SIPRI). The figures of the chart are taken from Table 5B.1, p. 359 and Figure 5.1, p. 324.

Because the sources reported US constant dollar values using different base years, the figures were all converted to US constant dollars for the year 2000. The conversion process made use of a US Gross Domestic Product Deflator Index which is based on historical tables of the budget of the US government. Although CRS reports annually on arms transfers for the previous eight-year period, its updating of earlier figures precludes the extrapolation of global transfer totals backward in time.

As is apparent from the chart, in any given year the three sources reported different values for global arms trade. The differences are due to a variation in methodology used by the three sources. In its WMEAT report, the US State Department compiles the most comprehensive picture of worldwide arms transfers. This includes all equipment designed for military use, including ammunition and support equipment, and their components. It also includes “dual-use” equipment “when its primary mission is identified as military,” as well as the building of defence production facilities and licencing fees paid as royalties for the production of military equipment when these are included in military transfer agreements.

The CRS report includes “the value of weapons, spare parts, construction, all associated services, military assistance, excess defense articles and training programs.” The difference with the WMEAT figures may in part be due to WMEAT’s inclusion of dual-use equipment and licencing fees.

SIPRI figures are compiled from deliveries of major conventional weapons and do not include all deliveries of military goods and services. The total is based on the use of a “trend-indicator value” intended to portray the volume of transfers and “not the actual financial values of such transfers.”

Spread the Word