The Export of Canadian Military Goods in 2001

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2003 Volume 24 Issue 2

Canada reported a boom year for military exports during 2001. Some recipients of these arms were at war or involved in human rights violations.

The value of Canada’s military exports reported by the Canadian government climbed for the fourth successive year in 2001 to a total of $592-million.1 After adjustment for inflation, the 2001 figure was 22 per cent higher than the equivalent total for 2000, and the highest reported for the post-Cold War period since 1990.

The reported export total does not include the value of the shipment of military goods to Canada’s largest foreign market – the United States. As noted by the government report, “permits are not required for the export of most Group 2 [military] items to the United States …. Statistics on military exports to the United States are therefore not readily available and cannot be included in this report.” Although other information sources have permitted Project Ploughshares to make estimates in the past, insufficient data precludes a reasonable estimate for a 2001 US figure. It is safe to assume, however, that the value of Canadian military exports to the US in 2001 exceeded the estimated figure of $950-million for 2000. It is likely that the US total for 2001 was close to twice the value of Canadian military exports to all other countries combined.

For over two decades Canada’s (non-US) military exports have fluctuated, regularly rising and falling in adjacent years. Following the pattern of global arms transfers, Canadian military exports rose erratically until the late 1980s, reaching a peak in 1987, and then declined dramatically to the nadir in 1990. Since 1990 and in contrast to global sales (which have been in decline – see The Ploughshares Monitor, Summer 2002, p. 19), Canadian transfers have generally climbed again to a high in 2001 that has been surpassed in only three years since 1978 (see Figure 1).

Table 1 lists the inflation-adjusted value of (non-US) Canadian military exports by geographic region in the post-Cold War period. During this period, Europe received the largest portion of Canadian military goods. More than two-fifths (44.3 per cent) of Canadian arms were shipped to Europe, followed by the Middle East at 30 per cent, Asia at 12.7 per cent and Oceania (essentially Australia and New Zealand) at 8.7 per cent. The regions of Africa (2.9 per cent) and Latin America (1.6 per cent) received far fewer Canadian arms. Viewed as a single region, the Third World (Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East) has imported close to one-half (47 per cent) of all military goods sold by Canada since 1990 to destinations outside the US. During the 2000-2001 period detailed in the latest government report, differences in regional shipments were most pronounced for Asia, which saw a dramatic rise from $37.6-million in 2000 to $100.4-million in 2001, and Latin America, where Canadian exports rose from $3.7-million to $25.2-million. Elsewhere, 2001 shipments were higher to Europe and to the Middle East and lower to Oceania and Africa.

Table 1: Post-Cold War Canadian military exports

by region (in constant 2001 million dollars)

Region 2000 2001 1990-2001 Total % Total
North America (excluding US) 0.31 0.45 5.07 0
Latin America 3.71 25.17 80.91 1.6
Europe 332.84 373.62 2247.76 44.3
Middle East 35.75 40.79 1518.99 30.0
Asia 37.62 100.43 645.32 12.7
Oceania 54.67 44.82 440.37 8.7
Africa 22.08 6.85 130.88 2.9
Annual non-US total 486.98 592.13 5069.3  

Despite government guidelines intended to “closely control” their transfer, Canadian military goods worth $100,000 or more were shipped in 2001 to several countries where government actions contravened stated Canadian export controls and policies. As shown by column two of Table 2, despite stated controls on transfers to countries “that are involved in or under threat of hostilities,” Canada shipped military goods exceeding $100,000 in value to five countries engaged in armed conflicts in 2001 (Colombia, Indonesia, Israel, Philippines, and Turkey). Similarly, column three of the Table lists the 12 recipients (including all five that were at war) of Canadian military goods where the government was involved in serious violations of human rights. (Military shipments in 2001 valued at less than $100,000 were omitted from the Table. These include some countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe where there were armed conflicts or human rights violations.)

Table 2: Selected recipients of Canadian military exports exceeding $100,000 in 2001

Country Armed conflict Majorhuman rights violations Excessive military spending Bottom half of UN HDI Value$ millions
Argentina   X     0.10
Bolivia   X   X 3.0
Botswana       X 4.67
Brazil   X     5.14
China   X   X 0.24
Colombia X X     2.20
Egypt       X 3.64
Greece     X   5.50
Guatemala       X 2.22
Indonesia X X   X 0.11
Israel X X X   0.66
Jordan     X X 1.18
Morocco       X 0.15
Oman     X   0.64
Philippines X X     0.28
Saudi Arabia   X X   32.11
Singapore     X   5.88
South Africa   X     0.29
Tunisia       X 1.73
Turkey X X X   1.43
Venezuela   X     11.60

Sources: Project Ploughshares (Armed Conflicts Report 2002), UNDP Human Development Report 2002, UN Department of Disarmament Affairs, Amnesty International Report 2002.
Canada also has officially endorsed the 1998 European Union Code of Conduct for International Arms Transfers containing additional criteria to restrict arms exports. In particular, the EU code calls on exporting states to note “whether the proposed export would seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country” and goes on to identify the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), among others, as a “relevant source” of information. Column four of Table 2 identifies the seven states receiving Canadian military goods valued at $100,000 or more where military spending exceeded education spending, based on UNDP data. Likewise, column five identifies the nine recipients of 2001 transfers which were ranked in the bottom half of the UNDP’s “Human Development Index,” an indicator of human development based on a range of social and economic data.

The evidence of the annual report points to the need for greater constraint in Canadian arms transfers. By closer interpretation of existing export controls alone, Canada should not have transferred military goods during 2001 to the five countries at war and to several others like Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and China where there are major human rights concerns. Furthermore, Canada needs to be more attentive to international obligations and commitments in its military export deliberations and take greater account of factors such as a recipient’s relative levels of military and social spending, and the impact of arms transfers on regional security. Equally important, Canada should be leading by example in arms export decisions, and use constraint in Canadian military sales to build international consensus on stricter universal export controls.



  1. This and subsequent figures are drawn from the Export of Military Goods from Canada: Annual Report 2001 and earlier versions.
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