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News > Analysis

Report: US Still Sells over Half the World's Arms

  • U.S. and their Western allies top the lists of biggest arms sellers in the world.

    U.S. and their Western allies top the lists of biggest arms sellers in the world. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 December 2015

Western nations monopolized the top 10 places, while Russia had the highest arms sales growth in 2014. SIPRI director Aude Fleurant spoke with teleSUR.

Global arms sales witnessed an increase to US$400 billion in 2014, with the United States continuing to dominate the market, along with its European allies the United Kingdom and France, according to a new report released Monday.

While the end of the Cold War meant smaller military budgets, spending picked up in the early 2000s and last year’s international arms sales were double those in 2001, according to the report, released Sunday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

With growing conflict in the Middle East and parts of Africa, many states increased their military spending, branching out to new customers.

While Western European nations and the United States saw a lag in sales last year, they still hold all top 10 spots. Seven of the top 10 producers are from the U.S., as are about two-thirds of the top 100.

Germany and Switzerland were the only Western European nations to increase their market share, thanks to new customers in Ukraine, Algeria and Qatar. Unlike the United States, they prioritize exports, which can account for up to half of sales.

As Western sales have steadied or dropped, “emerging producers,” like Russia, Turkey, Japan and Brazil, increasingly cashed in.

Military industrialization has long been a goal for many countries, partly to decrease dependence on U.S. arms and partly to boost national investment, Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program, told teleSUR.

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Still, U.S. dominance is not likely to end soon. In order to develop capabilities, countries first have to import weapons and equipment to establish local knowledge.

Importing U.S. arms also means establishing positive military relations with the superpower, which many countries would gladly include in national strategy, said Fleurant.

High prices and changes in regime also remain obstacles in meeting militarization goals, while consistent U.S. defense spending means a secure market for U.S. companies.

As countries like India and South Korea continue to develop their military industrial complex, multinational giants keep an easy lead, including Rolls-Royce, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thanks to its defense research.

East Asian car and tech companies Hyundai, Samsung and Mitsubishi also lead the way.

China was excluded from the list of top 100 because of the difficulty of gathering accurate data within the country.

For some conglomerates, arms production represents a small proportion of overall profit, but lobbying continues to be an important activity to secure demand. The production cycle, said Fleurant, lasts about 20 years, meaning that companies petition lawmakers to invest in the next generation of programs.

Once the contract is signed, production and sales can change by about 45 percent, said Fleurant. The 2014 numbers, then, represent deals from the 1990s, and will take another couple decades to reflect current demand.

While “predicting future wars is risky,” purchases like more missile orders are certain in order to replenish stocks from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“The defense industry is promoting a military solution to security problems, ensuring national security and sovereignty,” Fleurant said.

“However, what they’re selling is killing weapons to be used in military conflict. So it’s a question of perfection, of what language to use to analyze the different roles and influence that the actors and stakeholders (play) in the market.”

In total, arms sales reached over US$400 billion, about double since before the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks.

According to a Transparency International report in October, transactions come with little oversight, resulting in mismanagement and helping fuel corruption in receiving countries.

As conflicts evolve, weapons often end up in the hands of rebels who were not the original buyers. Fleurant said that levels of oversight depend on the country. Germany and France, for instance, have a reputation for being more cautious than the United States, but Fleurant stressed that with any country, it’s “difficult to follow a rationale.”

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