The independent resource on global security

Financial value of the global arms trade

The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database was not developed to assess the financial value of the international arms trade. Rather, the Trend Indicator Value (TIV) data produced by the Database is designed to serve as an indicator of the volume of military equipment transferred in the world.

The only means of making assessments of the financial value of the arms trade is to rely on official data provided by governments and industry bodies. There are significant limitations on using official national data in this way. There is no internationally agreed definition of what constitutes ‘arms’ and governments use different lists when collecting and reporting data on the financial value of their arms exports. In addition, there is no standardized methodology concerning how to collect and report such data, with some states reporting on export licences issued or used and other states using data collected from customs agencies.

 

Values of states' arms exports

The files below present official data on the financial value of states' arms exports.

The data is taken from reports by, direct quotes from or direct communication with governments or official industry bodies. The stated data coverage reflects the language used by the original source. National practices in this area vary, but the term ‘arms exports’ generally refers to arms actually delivered; ‘arms export licences’ generally refers to licences for arms exports issued by the national export licensing authority; and ‘arms export agreements’ refers to contracts or other agreements signed for arms exports. Sources refer to the five previous figures listed, beginning with the most recent.

The first file presents all available national data on arms exports between 1994 and 2016. The data is presented in the relevant national currency in current values. Sources refer to the five previous figures listed, beginning with the most recent.

The next two files present data on the financial value of countries' arms exports from 2001 to 2016 converted into US$. In the first file figures are in millions of US$ at current prices. Conversion to US$ is made using the market exchange rates of the reporting year. In the second file figures are in millions of US$ at constant (2016) prices. Conversion to constant (2016) US dollars is made using the market exchange rates of the reporting year and the US consumer price index (CPI).

The countries included in the table are those that provide data on the financial value of ‘arms exports’, ‘arms export licences’ or ‘arms export agreements’ for a majority of the years covered and for which the average of the values given exceeds $10 million.

 

Value of the global arms trade

According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, countries that produce official data on the financial value of their arms exports account for over 90 per cent of the total volume of deliveries of major weapons. It is possible therefore to use these figures to attain a rough estimate of the financial value of the global arms trade.

However, using the data in this way is problematic. First, the data sets used are based on different definitions and methodologies and are not directly comparable. Second, several states (such as the United Kingdom) do not release data on arms exports but only on arms export licences, while other states (such as China) do not release any data on arms exports, licences, agreements or orders.

Nonetheless, by adding up the data that states have made available on the financial value of their arms exports, as well as estimates for those that only provide data on arms export licences, agreements or orders, it is possible to estimate that the total value of the global arms trade in 2016 was at least $88.4 billion.* However, the true figure is likely to be higher.

For more information, please contact the Arms transfers, production and military expenditure Programme.

 

When calculating this total, figures for arms exports were used where they are available. In the case of Canada, the figure for arms exports has been doubled, as the arms export figures for Canada exclude exports to the USA, which the Canadian authorities claim account for more than half of Canada’s exports of military technology. Where figures for arms exports in 2016 are not available but figures for 2015 are available, the 2015 figure has been used. Where figures for arms exports are not available in 2016 or 2015, figures for arms export agreements or orders in 2015 have been used if available. Based on an analysis of past cases in which states have released data on both arms exports and arms export agreements or orders, the full figure for arms export agreements or orders has been used, but with a one-year lag. Where figures for arms export agreements or orders are not available, figures for arms export licences in 2016 have been used if available. Based on an analysis of states that release data on both arms exports and arms export licences, half the figure for arms export licences, for the current year, has been used. This export licence-based estimate has also been used for Germany, even though it provides figures for arms exports. Germany’s arms export figures only include exports of ‘weapons of war’, a much more limited category of goods and services than is generally covered by export licences. These figures therefore underestimate the total value of German arms exports.