The independent resource on global security

7. International arms transfers


I. Introduction

II. Major supplier developments, 2009

III. Arms transfers to North Africa

IV. Arms transfers to Iraq

V. Conclusions

Figure 7.1. The trend in international transfers of major conventional weapons, 2000–2009

Table 7.1. The five largest suppliers of major conventional weapons and their main recipients, 2005–2009



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The volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons continues to increase. The average annual level for the period 2005–2009 was 22 per cent higher than the annual average for 2000–2004.


The United States and Russia remained by far the largest exporters, followed by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Together these five countries accounted for 76 per cent of the volume of exports for 2005–2009. Although the dominant position of the first-tier suppliers, the USA and Russia, is unlikely to be challenged in the near future, the second-tier of arms suppliers is growing in number.


The major recipient region for the period 2005–2009 was Asia and Oceania, followed by Europe and the Middle East. The major recipient countries for 2005–2009 were China, India, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Greece. Asian and Middle Eastern countries are expected to remain among the world’s largest importers.


Israel, Singapore and Algeria were not among the 10 largest arms importers for the period 2000–2004 but ranked sixth, seventh and ninth for 2005–2009. Recent arms acquisitions by certain states in Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia suggest that a pattern of reactive arms acquisitions is emerging, that could develop into regional arms races.


In recent years concerns have been expressed that regional rivals Algeria and Morocco are engaged in an ‘arms race’. SIPRI data shows that the overwhelming majority of arms transfers to North Africa for the period 2005–2009 were destined for Algeria. However, in recent years Morocco has placed significant orders for combat aircraft, missiles and naval vessels. Although it is unlikely that these acquisitions in themselves will lead to conflict, they do not help to improve relations between the two countries. Furthermore, their acquisitions are likely to influence Libyan plans.


Iraq continues to rely on the USA for the provision of equipment to rebuild its armed forces, but has also received arms from Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Turkey. Its ambitious procurement plans have been hit by the economic crisis and declining oil prices. Nevertheless, the timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq lends a sense of urgency to international efforts to provide Iraq with the arms and military equipment it seeks to meet its perceived internal and external security needs.



Dr Paul Holtom (United Kingdom) is the Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.


Mark Bromley (United Kingdom) is a Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, where his work focuses on European arms exports and export controls and South American arms acquisitions.


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


Siemon T. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Senior Fellow with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, where he has worked since 1992. 

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