Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

Global arms trade on the rise

EPA-EFE//JACK PRITCHARD
Two British Royal Air Force yphoon aircraft fly over the Saudi desert.

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In the last five years, the international transfer of major arms followed an increasing trend that was noted in a recently published report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which found that the largest exporters of arms were the United States, Russia, France, Germany, and China, which together accounted for 76% of the total arms exports in the period.
Increasing arms trade from the US; drop in Russian exports
From 2015-19 American arms sales increased by 23% compared to 2010-14, which drastically widening the gap between itself and its closest competitor, Russia, whose arms’ exports saw a significant decrease.
In the second half of the last decade, the US held a 36% share of the global arms trade. Talking with New Europe, Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher and co-author of the SIPRI report, noted that the rise in American arms exports was mainly due to the continuation of major conflicts in the Middle East. The Middle East is the biggest recipient of US arms as 51% of the total American’s total exports were supplied to the region, a 79% increase compared to 2010-14.
At the same time, the demand for weapons amongst several countries that are US allies or with whom the US is developing relations has increased, said Wezeman, who added that this has been the case with Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan. 
In 2015-19, Saudi Arabia was the largest recipient of US arms, despite the Congress holding discussions about restrictions on arms exports to the country due to its human rights record. 
At the same time,  the overall US arms trade to the broader region of Asia and Oceania decreased by 20% compared to the preceding five years, but American arms exports to Australia and Japan rose by 41% and 85% respectively. 
For the Russians in the past five years, Moscow’s deals with its biggest client, India, fell by 47% between 2015-19 and 2010-14. This was likely due to India’s attempts to develop its own arms manufacturing industry.
The EU and West European countries
In the last five years, countries in the EU member were accountable for 26% of the total global arms exports, an increase of 9% compared to 2010-14. France, Germany, the United Kingdom (prior to Brexit), Spain, and Italy were among the top ten arms suppliers internationally, with the first three countries recording an increase in their exports between the two periods, while British and Italian exports fell. 
French arms exports rose by 72% between 2010-14 and 2015-19, reaching the highest level since 1990, the report cited. The largest share of the country’s exports was received by the Middle East (52%), an increase of 363% in arms exports to the region.
According to Wezeman, the increase in French arms exports came about due to the country’s aim to maintain a viable arms industry. ‘‘France regards its indigenous arms industry as a necessary foundation of its strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy. While France procures significant numbers of major arms from its own arms industry, domestic demand is deemed insufficient to maintain most of France’s main arms development and production programmes,’’ he noted.
France continued its deliveries to conflict areas and hasn’t placed restrictions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, due to already existing major deals and deliveries to Egypt, Qatar, and India in the past five years, French arms exports recorded a sharp increase. 
On the other side, while Germany moved on with the restriction of arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, a number of other deals with countries such as Egypt and Algeria contributed to an increase of the country’s arms exports. The top receivers of German arms exports in 2015-19 were South Korea, Greece, and Algeria.
Similarly to the arms export trend, Europe’s imports of arms followed an increase of 3.2%, reversing a preceding downward trend. According to Wezeman, tensions in Europe are on the rise, mainly because of the developments in the Middle East and North Africa, while since 2014 the ‘‘growing threat posed by Russia’’ has been another factor that contributed to the rise. ‘‘This results in increasing arms procurement by European states, which leads to increases in arms imports by Europe, including arms transfers within Europe,’’ Wezeman indicated. 
The largest supplier of arms to Europe in the last five years was the US, accounting for 41% of the region’s arms imports, followed by Germany (14%), and Russia (10%).
The Middle East’s high increase in arms imports
Apart from Europe, only the Middle East recorded an increase in arms imports, while respective imports in Africa, the US, Asia and Oceania were decreased. 
In fact, the Middle East was the region with the highest increase of arms imports globally with a noted increase of 61% in 2015-19 compared to 2010-14. During the period under examination, five of the ten top arms importers in the world were in the Middle East.
According to Wezeman, the high and increasing level of arms imports by states in the Middle East reflects the overall security posture in the volatile region, which puts a heavy emphasis on military strength. 

A US Navy F-18E Super Hornet receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria. EPA-EFE//DOD

Against this backdrop, Wezeman stated that in some cases the way countries use the arms they import nowadays differs from what was applied in the past. ‘‘Whereas in the past the military was often used more for territorial defense or to protect the established political systems and regimes against internal upheaval, now we see in several cases that the military, and thus the arms that are imported, are used as part of efforts to expand regional influences,’’ he explained.
Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen on the one hand and the United Arab Emirates’ role in Yemen and Libya largely explains the overall trend, Wezeman told New Europe.
As cited in the SIPRI report, despite the continuation of discussions in the USA, Canada, and many Western European countries to restrict arms exports to Saudi Arabia due to concerns on its military intervention in Yemen, the country continued receiving arms from some of these countries in 2019.
In 2015-19 Saudi Arabia was the country that had the highest share of arms imports both in the region and globally, recording a rapid increase of 130% compared to 2010-14.
At the same time, the rival factions of the conflict in Libya, namely the internationally recognised Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), have both imported weapons from Turkey, Jordan, the UAE, Belarus, and Egypt, all which were in violation of a 2011 United Nations arms embargo on the country.
According to the report, in 2015-19 combat aircraft and armed unmanned aerial vehicles of Emirati origin have been used in the Libyan conflict. The UAE’s involvement in Libya, as well as its military intervention in Yemen, is part of its “increasingly assertive foreign policy,’’ the report noted.
To this end, the fact that these military deployments occur amid long-standing rivalries and tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand, and Iran on the other, shows how imported arms are used for regional ambitions, indicated Wezeman.
Asked whether the number of imported arms by countries of the Middle East is expected to remain high, Wezeman argued that due to the various unresolved conflicts in the region and the already existing deals for arms imports, it is likely that high numbers will endure. 
‘‘There are a series of major deals that are outstanding now for arms imports by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar, Kuwait. and the UAE. These deals are planned to lead to deliveries in the coming years.’’ 

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