The independent resource on global security

8. International arms transfers



I. Introduction

II. The suppliers and recipients

III. Arms transfers to areas of conflict

IV. Arms trade and competition

V. New weapons and transatlantic cooperation: the JSF

VI. Arms transfer reporting and transparency

VII. Conclusions

Table 8.1. Transfers of major conventional weapons from the 10 leading suppliers to the 38 leading recipients, 1997–2001 [PDF]


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The SIPRI Arms Transfers Project identifies trends in international transfers of major conventional weapons using the SIPRI trend indicator. The trend-indicator value represents the volume of international transfers of both major conventional weapons and military technology for the foreign licensed production of these weapons.


The five-year moving average level of global arms transfers fell in the period 1997–2001. This is explained mainly by a reduction in deliveries by the USA, which was the largest supplier in 1997–2001 despite a 65% reduction in its arms deliveries since 1998. Russia was the second largest supplier during this period. A 24% increase in arms transfers from 2000 to 2001 made Russia the largest supplier in 2001.


China was by far the largest arms recipient in 2001 after an increase of 44% from 2000. Imports by India increased by 50%, making it the third largest recipient in 2001. The other major recipients in the period 1997–2001 were Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Turkey.


Certain countries are prohibited from receiving arms, some because they are involved in armed conflicts. It is impossible for arms suppliers to control whether arms deliveries will stabilize or destabilize a particular bilateral relationship, as illustrated by the case of India and Pakistan. Even relatively minor acquisitions, as illustrated by 3 countries in West Africa, may influence war-fighting and affect the acquisition behaviour of neighbouring countries. The United Nations continues to criticize the efficiency of arms embargoes.


The future supply of advanced major conventional weapons is affected by the uncertainty concerning the organization of transatlantic production and trade. Only the UK has been willing to participate fully and pay the cost of influencing Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) requirements. The cost of the highest form of participation in JSF development is too high for most European countries. If the project is a case study of transatlantic cooperation and the effects on military technology transfers, the transatlantic market will remain unbalanced.


Competition on the global arms market has strengthened new forms of marketing and transfer arrangements. Offset arrangements granted to the buyer may include military technology transfers in addition to the weapon system itself. Some arrangements involve transfers of military equipment from the buyer. In both cases offsets stimulate international military transfers.



Nicholas Chipperfield (United Kingdom) is a Research Assistant on the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project and has contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook since 2000. Before joining SIPRI he worked for the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) in Washington, DC and London.


Dr Björn Hagelin (Sweden) is the Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. Before joining SIPRI in 1998 he was a Researcher and Associate Professor at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University. His recent publications include a chapter on Sweden’s defence industry in eds A. Eriksson and J. Hallenberg, The Changing European Defence Industry Sector: Consequences for Sweden? (2000). He also contributed to Gummett, P. and James, A. (eds), The European Defence Industry and the New Arms Economy (Palgrave, forthcoming), the final report of the international project Managing European Technology: Defence and Competitiveness Issues.


Pieter D. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Researcher on the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. He has authored or co-authored several articles and papers on arms export issues. From 2000 he has focused on the issue of small arms transfers to areas of conflict. He has contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook since 1995.


Siemon T. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Researcher on the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. He is co-author (with Edward J. Laurance and Herbert Wulf) of SIPRI Research Report no. 6, Arms Watch: SIPRI Report on the First Year of the UN Register of Conventional Arms (1993), (with Bates Gill and J. N. Mak) of ASEAN Arms Acquisitions: Developing Transparency (1995) and (with Pieter D. Wezeman) of a paper for the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) on Dutch surplus weapon exports (1996). He has contributed to SIPRI Research Report no. 13, Arms, Transparency and Security in South-East Asia (1997) and to the SIPRI Yearbook since 1993.

Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman