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5. Transfers of major conventional weapons



I. Introduction 

II. The suppliers and recipients

III. The international arms trade and the price of weapons

IV. Changes in the arms market

V. International arms embargoes

VI. Arms transfer reporting and transparency

VII. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


Global arms transfers remained at a relatively stable level in 1995–99 but declined again in 2000, by 26%, owing mainly to the drop in deliveries by the USA.


There are four categories of suppliers: (a) the USA, the largest supplier and the sole country in this category, accounting for 47% of global arms transfers; (b) Russia and France, each accounting for over 10% of total transfers; (c) the UK and Germany, each accounting for 5–10% of the total; and (d) all the other suppliers. Together, the five suppliers in the first three groups accounted for almost 85% of all arms transfers.


The USA was the largest supplier in the period 1996–2000 as well as for each of the five years. It is a supplier to all of the 10 major arms recipients except India and has by far the highest number of recipients of all the suppliers. On the basis of the large order books of US companies and agreed US military transfers in the form of aid to Colombia, Egypt and Israel, the US slump in 2000 is expected to be short-lived. The strong supplier position of the USA is complemented by its attempts to influence the arms export behaviour of other countries in support of US policies. In 2000 the main countries which the USA tried to influence were Australia, Israel and the UK.


Russia increased its arms transfers in 2000 by 19% and accounted for 15% of the transfers in the period 1996–2000. It was the second largest supplier both for the period and for 2000. The increase in arms transfers by Russia in 2000 is mainly due to its deliveries of combat aircraft and ships to China, which also made China the world’s leading arms recipient in 2000. The leading recipients of major conventional weapons in 1996–2000 were Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Korea and China.


The European Union members accounted for 28% of the arms transfers in 1996–2000. Even if only the transfers from EU members to non-EU members are taken into account, the EU would still rank as the second largest supplier, with 24% of the world total.


Transparency in national arms trade has increased. It is possible to estimate the magnitude of the international arms trade on the basis of the reports submitted by most major supplier governments. However, other developments in 2000, resulting from increasing international cooperation, may complicate national transparency in transfers of arms and arms-related equipment, such as the six-nation Framework Agreement and ‘top secret’ classification for documents on EU security policy. In addition, without a political breakthrough to support its further development the UN Register of Conventional Arms may have outlived its usefulness.


Attempts to sustain or increase regional stability through arms supplies, illustrated by countries in Asia and the Middle East, seem unlikely to be successful in the long term. In addition, whether under international arms embargoes—including mandatory UN embargoes—or not, recipients in conflict regions receive supplies of major conventional weapons. Of the 15 leading recipients in the period 1996–2000, India, Israel, Pakistan and Turkey were involved in armed conflicts in 2000.



Appendix 5A. The volume of transfer of major conventional weapons: by recipients and suppliers, 1996-2000


Appendix 5B. The volume of transfers of major conventional weapons: by regions and other groups of recipients and suppliers, 1991-2000


Appendix 5C. Register of the transfers and licensed production of major conventional weapons, 2000


Appendix 5D. Sources and methods for arms transfers data


Full text Appendices 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D [PDF].



Appendix 5E. Government and industry statistics on national arms exports


Full text Appendix 5E [PDF].



Appendix 5F. Transfers of small arms and other weapons to armed conflicts


Full text Appendix 5F [PDF].



Control of the proliferation and availability of small arms is considered an important instrument of conflict prevention and resolution.
Among the issues under discussion are the use of small arms in conflicts; the availability, demobilization and collection of small arms in post-conflict situations; and the supply of small arms through international transfers. The debate on the last issue has to a large extent been further narrowed down to the illegal trade in small arms, as evidenced by the title of the July 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. In effect, this limits the discussion to the question of how to curb the transfer of small arms to non-state actors.


This emphasis addresses the problem at the minimum level. The approach may be preferred because it is politically convenient or because it limits the scope of the debate to a manageable level. The central feature of an alternative approach is to determine when supplies of weapons are legitimate and responsible, and when the motives of suppliers—whether of an economic, foreign policy or humanitarian interventionist nature—are so strong that they are willing to run the risk that weapon supplies will aggravate the conflicts. Although the more inclusive approach may not be politically or practically feasible at the UN level, it can be pursued for policy development at the national level or between smaller groups of countries in the development of new norms and regulations.


The appendix contains case studies of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman