The independent resource on global security

7. International arms transfers



Approximately 80 per cent of the volume of exports of major
conventional weapons for the period 2003–2007 were accounted for by the
five largest suppliers—the USA, Russia, Germany, France and the UK.
Although these five suppliers are likely to continue to account for an
overwhelmingly large share of international arms transfers, concerns
were expressed in 2007 regarding the export prospects for French and
Russian major conventional weapons.

Asia, Europe and the Middle East continued to be the largest
recipient regions for the period 2003–2007. The largest recipient
countries were China, India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Greece and
South Korea. However, 2007 gave the first signs of a potentially
significant change among the largest recipients, with decreased
deliveries to and orders by China. The largest suppliers to Asia and
the Middle East will continue to engage in intense competition for
export orders, with Libya and Saudi Arabia likely to become large
recipients once again.

SIPRI data show the volume of international arms transfers to South
America in the period 2003–2007 to be 47 per cent higher than in
1998–2002. Despite attention-grabbing headlines and some evidence of
competitive behaviour (e.g. the nature and timing of acquisitions by
Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela), it seems unlikely that South America
is in the midst of a classically defined arms race. Acquisitions have
been primarily motivated by efforts to replace or upgrade military
inventories in order to maintain existing capabilities; to respond to
predominantly domestic security threats; to strengthen ties with
supplier governments; to enhance domestic arms industry capability; or
to bolster regional or international profile.

Arms suppliers meet the demand for weapons that a conflict creates
for a number of reasons: to gain political and economic influence, to
substitute for an interested external party’s direct military presence
and to meet the powerful economic pressures to sell arms. The
international transfer of arms to conflict zones in Afghanistan and
Sudan illustrates a number of related tendencies. First, UN arms
embargoes imposed on armed non-state actors have thus far failed to
stop their arms acquisitions. Second, major arms suppliers have been
willing to show their support for the government in a conflict zone by
directly supplying it with arms. Third, internationally sanctioned
peacekeeping operations often struggle to obtain suitable arms and
military equipment.


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

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

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