The independent resource on global security

6. International arms transfers


I. Introduction

II. Major arms suppliers: the United States and Russia

III. Arms transfers to India and Pakistan

IV. Exports from the European Union to countries in conflict

V. Conclusions

Figure 6.1. The trend in international transfers of major conventional weapons, 2001–10

Table 6.1. The five largest suppliers of major conventional weapons and their main recipients, 2006–10


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The volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons in 2006–10 was 24 per cent higher than in 2001–2005, continuing the upward trend.


The United States and Russia were the largest exporters of major conventional weapons in 2006–10, accounting for 53 per cent of the volume of exports. Countries in Asia were their largest recipients. Economic and foreign policy considerations continued to play a central role in their respective decisions on arms exports. The US Administration has made proposals to reform its export controls to prevent arms and technology from reaching adversaries and to better facilitate transfers to allies. Russia’s decision in 2010 to cancel the delivery of S-300 air defence systems to Iran is significant for its reputation as a ‘reliable’ supplier.


The major recipient region in 2006–10 was Asia and Oceania (accounting for 43 per cent of imports of major conventional weapons), followed by Europe (21 per cent) and the Middle East (17 per cent). India was the largest recipient of major conventional weapons in 2006–10, pushing China into second place. South Korea (6 per cent), Pakistan (5 per cent) and Greece (4 per cent) were the other largest recipients.


Although India and Pakistan have both imported large quantities of weapons to counter external security threats, internal security challenges are currently the most pressing issue for Pakistan and also a source of much concern in India. India is the target of intense supplier competition for billion-dollar deals, in particular for combat aircraft and submarines. Pakistan relies on US military aid and Chinese soft loans for most of its acquisitions. Both countries are likely to remain major recipients in the coming years.


Member states of the European Union are obliged to apply criteria relating to conflict prevention when making decisions on export licence applications. A framework has been elaborated for EU members to harmonize interpretation of these criteria, along with those applying to human rights and economic development. However, during 2006–10 divisions among EU member states on the interpretation of criteria relating to conflict prevention have been particularly evident with regard to Israel, Georgia and Russia. Differences between EU members relate in large part to the long-standing arms trade and security ties with certain states, as well as national security and economic interests more generally.



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.


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. 

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