The independent resource on global security

10. International arms transfers


I. Introduction

II. International arms transfers 2002–2006

III. Import dependency or import substitution

IV. State arms supplies to rebels

V. Official arms transfer transparency

VI. Conclusions


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There has been an almost 50 per cent increase in the volume of major conventional arms transfers over the past four years, reversing a downward trend after 1997. The USA and Russia were the largest suppliers in the five-year period 2002–2006, each accounting for around 30 per cent of global deliveries. Exports from European Union (EU) members to non-EU countries accounted for just over 20 per cent of global deliveries. Because of its very limited internal market, the Russian arms industry remains heavily dependent on exports—most newly produced weapons in Russia are exported—to maintain an arms industry and fund development of new weapons and technology. This limits the possibility that Russia will exercise restraint in its arms exports. The arms industries of the USA and EU members are in general far less export dependent.


China and India remained the largest arms importers in the world. Also among the top 10 importers were five Middle Eastern countries. While much media attention was given to arms deliveries to Iran, mainly from Russia, deliveries from the USA and European countries to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were significantly larger. Especially worrisome are deliveries of long-range conventional strike systems to these states and the effects this may have on regional stability.


Because the development of large weapon systems is becoming increasingly costly, nearly all countries have become or soon will become dependent on other countries for weapons or weapon technology. This could lead to mutual dependency—as in US–Europe relations—or to one-sided dependency, as is the case for most developing countries. Some countries may be unwilling to accept dependency or be unable to access arms and technology. They may try, at high economic cost, to become autonomous in arms production or may focus on relatively cheap alternative weapons such as weapons of mass destruction, or war-fighting strategies such as terrorism and IT warfare.


The problem of controlling state supplies of weapons to rebel groups, while not new, was highlighted in 2006 by the arsenal acquired by Hezbollah from Iran and used in its war with Israel, and by serious breaches by state actors of the UN arms embargo on Somalia.
Transparency in arms transfers, which in the 1990s saw significant improvement, with more and better national export reports, has remained stagnant in the past few years.


Siemon T. Wezeman (Netherlands) is Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


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


Damien Fruchart (UK) is a Research Assistant with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


Dr Paul Holtom (UK) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.


Pieter D. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project.

Siemon T. Wezeman, Dr Mark Bromley, Paul Holtom and Pieter D. Wezeman