The independent resource on global security

13. International arms transfers



I. Introduction

II. The suppliers and recipients

III. The effectiveness of UN arms embargoes

IV. Competition and arms control

V. Anti-terrorism cooperation and arms transfers

VI. Arms transfers reporting and transparency

VII. Conclusions


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Major conventional arms transfers in the period 1998–2002 remained at a post-cold war low. Despite an increase in the period 2000–2002, the five-year moving average for 2002 was the lowest so far. The five largest suppliers in the period 1998–2002 accounted for about 80% of major conventional arms transfers. While the trend for Russia has constantly increased since 1998, that for the USA has constantly decreased. France, Germany and the UK show varied trends over recent years.


The USA was the largest supplier in 1998–2002 with 41% of global deliveries. Russia accounted for 22% of total arms transfers, which gave it second place. However, for the second year in a row, Russia was the largest supplier, with 36% of global deliveries in that year. China was the fourth largest supplier in 2002, which was a major change from previous years. It accounted for 5% of all deliveries—mainly as a result of its deliveries of combat aircraft to Pakistan.


Among the major arms recipients were countries involved in wars against terrorism. The initial focus of military action was on Afghanistan, but intra-state conflicts in other parts of the world were redefined during 2002 by their respective governments in an attempt to gain legitimacy for their actions. Taken together, the cases studied did not support the hypothesis that levels of major arms transfers would be higher because of anti-terrorist deliveries in 2002. In fact, most transfers of major conventional weapons during 2002 were the result of decisions taken before September 2001.


It is uncertain how important anti-terrorist activities will be for the future trend in transfers of major weapons. On the one hand, major weapons might not be the most effective means for fighting terrorism. On the other hand, if military anti-terrorist activities multiply and become long, drawn-out operations, continued deliveries involving major weapons may be regarded as necessary in order to increase the chances of success. This could lead to new or additional legislation or reduced political willingness to implement arms export controls restrictively vis-à-vis certain countries. Should that happen, it could become increasingly difficult to distinguish between a legitimate ambition to support anti-terrorism abroad and attempts to help indigenous military companies to find foreign markets. Even without major long-term changes to that effect, low-level ad hoc transfers of major weapons could become important for smaller suppliers and make a substantial contribution to the military capability of particular recipients. It is not certain that such developments will support regional stability. To that should be added problems with illegal transfers.


There are also problems with implementing UN arms embargoes. There is a need for further development of instruments for enforcement, not only by closing legal loopholes but also by cooperating and coordinating the monitoring of arms transfers from departure to arrival at the authorized final destination.


Although few significant new developments took place in national arms transfers reporting during 2002, the EU showed a willingness to create more public transparency in arms transfers. Nonetheless, more scope for openness remains, not least at the regional level. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons is also a first step that could develop into an open and public report, also including transfers of small arms outside the OSCE area.



Appendix 13A. The volume of transfers of major conventional weapons: by recipients and suppliers, 1998-2002


Full text Appendix 13A [PDF].


Appendix 13B. The volume of the transfers of major conventional weapons: by regions and other groups pf recipients and suppliers, 1993-2002


Full text Appendix 13B [PDF].


Appendix 13C. Register of transfers and licensed production of major conventional weapons, 2002


Full text Appendix 13C [PDF].


Appendix 13D. Sources and methods for arms transfer data


Full text Appendix 13D [PDF].


Appendix 13E. The financing factor in arms sales: the role of official export credits and guarantees


Full text Appendix 13E [PDF].


Easy credit for military equipment buyers induced by the competition between supplier states is the norm rather than the exception in the international arms market. Financing has emerged as an important factor in winning the large military equipment orders arising from NATO enlargement. The Polish competition for fighter jet aircraft, won by Lockheed Martin in December 2002 with the support of a $3.8 billion loan authorization from the US Government, illustrates the mixed incentives that drive supplier states to offer subsidized export financing. Only limited effort has been made internationally to extend export credit financing disciplines to the military sector.



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, for 10 years. Before that he worked as a security analyst at the National Defence Research Institute (FOA). His publications include books, chapters and articles about security policy, the military industry, arms transfers and related topics. He recently contributed to Maciejewski, W. (ed.), The Baltic Sea Region: Cultures, Politics, Societies (Baltic University Press, Uppsala, 2002).


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 contributed to SIPRI Research Report no. 13 Arms, Transparency and Security in South-East Asia (1997), and has contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook since 1993.


Nicholas Chipperfield (United Kingdom) was a Research Assistant on the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. He contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook in 2000 and 2001 and was responsible for the maintenance of the Arms Transfers Project’s Internet pages. Before joining SIPRI he worked for the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) in Washington, DC and London.


Peter C. Evans (United States) has served as a consultant on international trade and export finance to private firms and public sector institutions, including the World Bank and the US Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee. His publications include ‘International competition: conflict and cooperation in export financing’ (with Kenneth A. Oye) in (eds) G. Hufbauer and R. Rodriguez, US Ex-Im Bank in the 21st Century: A New Approach? (Institute for International Economics, 2001). He holds an MS from MIT and is currently completing his PhD at MIT's Department of Political Science.

Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman