According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the total value of arms deliveries in 1997 was $46bn, far below the Cold War peak of $88.5bn in 1987, but more than a third higher than the trough of $34bn in 1994.
The US remains by far the world's largest weapons exporter, with $21bn, followed by Britain with $8.6bn or 18.5 per cent of the total, with France close behind. Russian arms sales however slumped to an estimated $2.5bn in 1997, compared with over $30bn annually a decade ago.
By far the largest markets are in the Middle East, reflecting the completion of major orders placed after the 1991 Gulf War, and the Far East, where the then surging economies and growing regional tensions centred on China and Korea pushed up arms deliveries to a record $14.7bn last year.
But this is now likely to change. Trends in arms transfers are erratic, John Chipman, the IISS director, noted yesterday - as evidenced by Saudi Arabia's position as top single arms importer, with $11bn of deliveries, including 36 Tornados and 20 Hawk trainers from the UK, as a result of the major contracts of the Thatcher era. But overall global arms sales are now likely to drop, with no upturn likely until 2000 at the earliest, he said.
Unsurprisingly, the Middle East remains proportionately the most heavily armed region on earth, with regional spending climbing 5 per cent in real terms last year to $56bn, or over 7 per cent of GDP. The military budget compares with under 3 per cent in the UK, and around 4 per cent in the US.