Up in arms: Western military exports surge as Chinese and Russian sales subside

The biggest customers include Gulf states and Asian nations such as India and Pakistan

Indian army fighter jets on the deck of an aircraft carrier during an exercise last November
Indian army fighter jets on the deck of an aircraft carrier during an exercise last November

Exports of weapons of war by Western and European democracies - who pride themselves on their adherence to international norms and commitments to peace - surged over the last five years even as sales by the authoritarian nations they frequently decry plunged, according to a report issued on Monday tracking global arms transfers.

A study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showed overall arms exports over the last five years remained flat, with declines in the sales of weapons by Russia and China offset by rising exports from the United States, France and Germany.

“It’s surprising that the countries that are the ones boasting that they are following and setting international laws and norms are the ones that are the biggest exporters,” said Siemon Wezeman, a researcher focusing on arms and military expenditures at SIPRI.

America remains the world’s number one exporter, and sales of its fighter jets, tanks and weapons systems jumped 15 per cent over between 2016 and 2020, compared to the previous five years. United Kingdom arms exports abroad stagnated 27 per cent during the same period, with less demand for its fighter jets amid competition from the US, France and upstart challengers such as South Korea.

The Arab dictatorships of the Middle East are the world’s fastest growing importers of weapons, with imports jumping 25 per cent in the last five years compared to the previous period.

Read more:

But arms imports to Asia and Oceania make up the lion’s share of international weapons sales, with 42 per cent of all arms exports pouring into the increasingly tense Pacific region, where India, Australia, China, Korea and Pakistan were the biggest importers, and Japanese imports jumped 124 per cent between in the last five years compared to the previous half decade.

SIPRI’s study does not identify monetary flows but examines volumes of equipment, using its own system to assign value for each piece of war machinery.

In both the Middle East and Far East Asia, as well as a Europe increasingly sensing the threat of a resurgent Russia, a lack of arms control mechanisms, insecurity and escalating weapons envy are fuelling arms purchases. Even though sales have been flat over the last decade, the arms trade remains at its highest levels since the Cold War.

“That tells you how unsafe countries feel,” said Mr Wezeman. “And in many places there is no proper mechanism where you can discuss what you’re seeing your neighbour doing in a normal way. Arms control is not really something on the minds of leaders.”

Military hardware used by the Houthis in the Yemen war

The export of weapons has become so lucrative that more and more smaller countries are getting into the business. South Korea and Israel both saw significant expansions of their arms exports.

All nations describe their military imports as defensive, but arms races can also lead to wars.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan steadily built up their military capabilities through imports largely from Russia and Israel over the last five years ahead of a weeks-long autumn war that changed the balance of power in the Caucasus region.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in