The independent resource on global security

11. Transfers of major conventional weapons




Since 1995 the level of transfers of major
conventional weapons has been fairly stable and much lower than in the
late 1980s. The global SIPRI trend-indicator value of the transfers of
major conventional weapons in 1998 - $21.9 billion, at constant 1990
prices - was little more than in 1994 ($20 billion), the lowest level
since 1970. The global reduction in 1998 was primarily the result of
procurement decisions made several years ago, rather than an effect of
the financial crisis which began in Asia in 1997.

were only minor changes in the ranking of the top major suppliers for
the aggregate period 1994-98 compared with the period 1993-97. The USA
remained the largest supplier in 1994-98, followed by Russia. Among the
other major suppliers France's arms transfers have increased steadily
since 1994; France passed the UK to become the third largest supplier
for the period 1994-1998. 

Against the
background of tough global and regional competition, industrial and
political ambitions to finance the development of new weapons and
certain arms production capacities by way of arms exports lead to
different national interpretations of export limitations and technology
transfers to the possible detriment of arms control. This was
illustrated in 1998 by the failed attempt by the US Administration to
prevent the British Government from approving the sale of air-to-ground
missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

different means of arms export control, embargoes are a strong
political signal of disfavour. While many embargoes have been enforced
on states engaged in internal wars, they do not seem to have had much
influence on the level of violence or to have led to an end to the
fighting. In practically all cases of embargo, including mandatory UN
embargoes, reports have emerged of illegal arms transfers. 

adoption by EU member states of a Code of Conduct for Arms Exports in
1998 constitutes an important step in a difficult political process
towards the creation of common export regulations. However, the code
does not put restrictions on European arms exports. It remains to be
seen if the first annual reports on arms exports and on the national
implementation of the code will be a major step forward with regard to
transparency. On the whole, there are still few governments which
regularly make available detailed national information about their
overall arms exports, although the level of detail has improved in
recent years. In 1998 the UN Register of Conventional Arms included
data (for 1997) on holdings of weapons and procurement from national
production for the first time.


Appendix 11A. The volume of transfers of major conventional weapons, 1989-98



Appendix 11B. Register of the transfers and licensed production of major conventional weapons, 1998



Appendix 11C. Sources and methods


Appendix 11D. The European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports


Appendix 11E. Efforts to control the international trade in light weapons



The success of the campaign to ban anti-personnel
landmines gave some encouragement to the non-governmental
organizations, international bodies and some national governments that
were seeking improved control of light weapons, but progress was
limited to some particular steps. Because of lack of support from
member states, initial action by the UN on the 1997 report of the Group
of Governmental Experts on Small Arms was limited to the initiation of
a study on ammunition and preparations for an international conference.
Regional initiatives included the adoption by the EU of a Code of
Conduct on Arms Exports and a Joint Action to combat the spread of
small arms; the Organization of American States (OAS) legally binding
Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and
Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related
Material (1997); and a Declaration of a Moratorium on Importation,
Exportation and Manufacture of Light Weapons in West Africa by the 16
member states of the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS). Cooperation developed at a practical level in southern Africa.

fight against arms trafficking depends on the support of national
governments and will need strong political will. Support for controls
on the 'supply' as well as the 'demand' side is patchy, particularly
among the industrialized states, and lack of coordination between
national governments is a particular problem in Europe. The next steps
in pushing ahead restraints on light weapons transfers are likely to be
the introduction of greater transparency (either by including light
weapons in the UN Register of Conventional Weapons or by creating
regional registers) and an international system of supplier
identification and marking.

Pieter D. Wezeman