The independent resource on global security

Taking stock of international security

Although there have been some hopeful signs, overall the world continues to face continuing and growing challenges to security, stability and peace. Contradictions seem to abound. While there are a record number of multilateral peace operations, major armed conflict continues in regions around the globe. Despite the global financial crisis and recession, levels of military spending, arms trade and arms production all continue to rise and, while there are high-level calls for nuclear disarmament, the world faces the prospect of more nuclear proliferation in the years to come.

Security and conflicts

Over the past year, 17 major armed conflicts carried on in such places as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Palestinian territories, the Philippines and Somalia. While some greater stability came to Iraq, conditions worsened in Afghanistan and violence in Pakistan’s Swat Valley region escalated in 2009.

The number of civilians mandated for roles in United Nations missions has increased, as has the number of multilateral civilian peace missions. Yet, the international community’s record in strengthening civilian capacities in peace operations is decidedly mixed. These efforts still lack conceptual coherency and intra- and inter-organizational cooperation, and major operational challenges persist. The emergent ambition to significantly reform and improve civilian operations is timely and much needed but should not have over-expectations of success at this point.

Meanwhile, Euro-Atlantic security institutions are undergoing considerable reassessment, and the Euro-Atlantic security partnership also struggles to define new roles and relationships that are consistent with the threat environment for the coming decades. Many of these challenges are amply demonstrated in the ongoing difficulties in stabilizing Afghanistan.

Military expenditure, arms production and the international arms trade

Despite the financial crisis, sustained upward trends in military spending, arms production and arms transfers continued essentially uninterrupted.

Global military spending rose to $1531 billion in 2009, 6 per cent higher in real terms than in 2008. Military spending worldwide was 49 per cent higher in 2009 than it was in 2000. In general, the global financial crisis has apparently not had an effect on military spending by major powers such as the United States (which accounted for 54 per cent of the increase in world military spending in 2009) and Russia. Indeed, 14 of the top 15 military spenders increased their military expenditure in 2009 over 2008.

The upward trajectory for the international arms trade continued: in 2005–2009 the volume of major conventional weapon transfers increased by 22 per cent in comparison with 2000–2004.

Non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament

The past year saw markedly higher expectations about nuclear arms control, especially as top political leaders around the world began to give serious attention to further nuclear arms reductions, security of nuclear materials and even the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons in the long-term future. But in spite of much hopeful rhetoric, a disconcerting picture emerges on questions of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament.

The multilateral regimes and intergovernmental organizations working to control the transfer of goods, technologies and other items that raise security-related concerns continued to face common challenges, such as dealing with ‘intangible technology transfers’. There was some increased momentum for nuclear arms control in 2009—the beginning of formal negotiations on strategic weapon reductions between Russia and the USA and the entry into force of two new nuclear weapon-free zones. However, the year saw little to no progress in addressing concerns related to nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2010 did not end in failure, but it did little to accelerate disarmament or to assure a halt to further nuclear proliferation.

Most tangibly, at the beginning of 2010 the eight nuclear weapon states—the USA, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan and Israel—possessed more than 7500 operational nuclear weapons, with almost 2000 of them maintained in a state of high operational alert. Counting all nuclear warheads, including those in operation, spares, those in storage and those intact warheads slated for dismantlement, these eight countries possess a total in excess of 22 000 warheads, more than 90 per cent of which are in the arsenals of Russia and the USA.


In the face of myriad security challenges, the multilateral institutions charged with mitigating these challenges continue their struggle to achieve mandates, realize reform and confront new realities. The continued upward growth in military spending, arms production and arms transfers will depend on how the global financial situation changes in the year to come, as well as on developments in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Future directions in armaments and disarmament are likewise at a critical stage. While there are hopes for continued nuclear disarmament in the future, nuclear weapons will likely retain their central place in the security planning of those states which possess them.

Taken as a whole, the contributions to SIPRI Yearbook 2010 describe a world at a critical turning point. Looking ahead, SIPRI will continue to closely monitor, analyse and put forward recommendations on these and other emergent trends. In doing so, through the SIPRI Yearbook and other channels, SIPRI aims to fulfill its mandate to provide data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.