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6. Transparency in the arms life cycle



I. Introduction

II. Military expenditure and arms production

III. Arms transfers

IV. Arms inventories

V. Disposal of arms

VI. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


Transparency is commonly understood as the release of information by governments. A review of the availability of quantitative data on a multinational level about the arms life cycle ‘from development to destruction’, shows that government openness is not sufficient to provide the information required by representative institutions, the media and the public at large. Such openness is a prerequisite for democratic control and for the accountability of government actions at the national and international levels.


However, transparency is relative. The value of information depends on features such as availability, reliability, comprehensiveness, comparability and disaggregation. Data rarely meet all these requirements for each phase of the acquisition cycle. There are variations between countries in the definitions that determine what they include and exclude in their reported data. The problem of definition is increasing, while the activities of arms producers remain partly beyond the control of the citizens of the countries where they operate. The dual-use nature of many current innovations in science and technology is making it both more important and harder to pin down and compare the financial commitment to specifically military research and development.


The lack of internationally agreed definitions, or adherence to existing definitions, poses obvious problems for international comparisons. There is no systematic, reliable, valid and global—or in most cases, even regional—set of quantitative data on the arms life cycle. Persistent government preferences for secrecy are part of the explanation, as illustrated by the limited transparency in national arms inventories in general and in nuclear and biological weapons in particular. Although some progress has been made since the late 1960s towards greater transparency in nuclear arsenals, there remain large uncertainties about global inventories of nuclear weapons and weapon-usable fissile material. For biological weapons, transparency could even be decreasing.


More positive trends have been noted regarding data on chemical weapons, military expenditure and arms transfers. Destroyed chemical weapons as well as remaining stockpiles are reported as part of multinational agreements. Increasing transparency in arms transfers is partly the result of public demand and of governments’ willingness to release more and better data. Data on military expenditure—an important share of public finance in many countries—have become, among other things, part of the policy debate about development assistance, and the changing character of threats and armed conflicts has also increased the demand for data on internal security expenditure and on the balance between expenditure for internal and external security. Such demands come not only from governments and their development assistance agencies, but also from foreign investors and non-governmental organizations. The Small Arms Survey illustrates the increasing political relevance of small arms and light weapons. However, the existence of national forces and stocks of weapons abroad, as well as access to foreign bases, makes it hard to keep track of the exact size and deployment of national inventories at a given time, let alone to assess operational military capability in a particular regional setting.


Making the whole life cycle ‘from development to destruction’ transparent will call for major additional resources. Meeting that demand is a challenge to all governments and other organizations that count public transparency among their highest aims.



Mark Bromley (UK) is a Research Associate with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


Dr Björn Hagelin (Sweden) is the Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


John Hart (USA) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Project.


Shannon N. Kile (USA) is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project.


Dr Zdzislaw Lachowski (Poland) is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Euro-Atlantic, Regional and Global Security Project.


Wuyi Omitoogun (Nigeria) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.


Catalina Perdomo (Colombia) is a Research Assistant with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.


Eamon Surry (Australia) is a Research Associate with the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme.


Siemon T. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


Dr Mark Bromley, Dr John Hart, Shannon N. Kile, Catalina Perdomo and Siemon T. Wezeman