The independent resource on global security

10. International arms transfers


I. Introduction

II. The suppliers and recipients

III. International arms embargoes

IV. Arms transfer reporting and transparency

V. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


The trend in transfers of major conventional arms, as measured by the SIPRI trend-indicator value, is apparently changing from a downward trend since 1997 to a more or less stable trend for 2000–2002 to a slightly upward trend in 2003–2004. Financial data from national export reports show a more or less similar change. However, it is too early to judge if this is really a trend or only a matter of annual fluctuations.


Russia established itself as the main supplier of major conventional weapons for the five-year period 2000–2004, replacing the USA which was the main supplier for many years. However, even Russian officials expect a decline in Russian sales in the near future since Russian equipment is mainly based on old technology and Russian military research and development is lagging far behind. Together, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA made up 81 per cent of all deliveries in 2000–2004. The combined deliveries of all 25 EU states to non-EU states made up some 19 per cent of all deliveries in 2000–2004, making the EU the third largest exporter.


China and India were the two main recipients of major conventional weapons in 2004. China is almost completely dependent on Russia for its arms imports, but its relationship is changing from a recipient of complete weapons to a recipient of components and technology to be used in Chinese weapon platforms. There are indications that China is anxious to gain access to other than Russian technology, partly because that technology is becoming outdated. India is also a major Russian client, but here Russia faces strong competition from France, the UK and other European suppliers, as well as from Israel and most recently from the USA.


EU–US relations became strained in 2004 over the issue of technology transfers. The USA has been reluctant to share technology with close European allies even in joint ventures such as the F-35 JSF combat aircraft.


The EU’s plans to lift its arms embargo against China further strained relations. The non-binding and loosely drafted embargo was established in 1989 in reaction to Chinese human rights abuses. Today, many EU governments consider the embargo outdated and a barrier to improving Chinese–EU relations. The embargo has not stopped several European countries from supplying military technology to China, and most EU member states have argued that lifting the embargo would not mean increases in arms sales. Many EU governments feel that there should still be clear and strong limitations on the arms trade with China, either by keeping the embargo or by improving the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. The USA strongly opposes lifting the embargo in order to prevent a Chinese military build-up and has threatened the EU with sanctions if the embargo is lifted.


Public transparency in arms transfers increased again slightly, mainly in the EU where several countries improved their reporting and where 10 new EU members are now obliged to report under the EU Code of Conduct. At the international level, man-portable air defence systems and light artillery were added to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

Siemon T. Wezeman and Dr Mark Bromley