USA Reemerges as Leading Arms Supplier to the Developing World

By Rachel Stohl, Senior Analyst
On Sept. 26, 2007, the Congressional Research Service released the most recent version of its annual arms transfer report, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006.”  For the period 2003-2006, the United States ranks as the world’s largest exporter of arms to developing nations, and regained its place atop the list of arms exporting nations (in 2005 the United States fell behind Russia and France to place third in terms of new arms export agreements concluded with developing nations). In 2006, the United States concluded $10.3 billion – nearly 36 percent of all arms transfer agreements with the developing world (up from $6.2 billion in agreements in 2005). Russia, last year’s leading exporter to developing nations, placed second with $8.1 billion (approximately 28 percent of new agreements) and the United Kingdom was third with $3.1 billion (nearly 11 percent) in new deals with the developing world.

According to the report, the developing world accounts for 71.5 percent of new arms transfer agreements. Total arms deliveries to these areas made up nearly 74 percent of all global arms deliveries. Arms transfer agreements worldwide amounted to $40.3 billion in 2006, a 13 percent decrease from 2005 totals.  Global arms deliveries totaled $27 billion in 2006. 

The CRS report (also known as the Grimmett report after its author, CRS Specialist in National Defense Richard Grimmett) defines developing nations as all countries except the United States, Russia, the European nations, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The report examines 14 categories of conventional weapons: tanks and self propelled guns, artillery, armored personnel carriers and armored cars, major surface combatants, minor surface combatants, submarines, guided missile patrol boats, supersonic combat aircraft, subsonic combat aircraft, other aircraft, helicopters, surface to air missiles, surface to surface missiles, and anti ship missiles.

The United States remained the number one arms exporter in the world – both in terms of global agreements and deliveries in 2006, making $16.9 billion worth of new arms agreements in 2006 (41.9 percent of the global total), up from its 2005 total of $13.5 billion. Russia was second in global arms agreements with $8.7 billion, and the United Kingdom was third with $3.1 billion.  Together, the United States, Russia, and United Kingdom were responsible for 71.2 percent of global arms agreements, worth $28.7 billion in 2006.The United States made nearly 52 percent of global arms deliveries in 2006, worth $14 billion. Russia was again second with $5.8 billion and the United Kingdom third with $3.3 billion in global arms deliveries.

Boosted by large agreements with the United States, Pakistan led recipients in the developing world in arms agreements in 2006 with $5.1 billion in new agreements. India followed with $3.5 billion and Saudi Arabia was third with $3.2 billion. Saudi Arabia was the largest recipient of arms in the developing world in 2006 with $4.1 billion in deliveries in 2006, followed by China, which received $2.9 billion in new deliveries, and Israel with $1.5 billion.  The data in the Grimmet report reveals that only a few developing nations are responsible for the majority of the reported arms deals. The top 10 developing world recipients of new arms agreements were responsible for $22.2 billion (77.1 percent) of all arms agreements with the developing world and deliveries to the top 10 developing countries totaled $14.3 billion or 71.9 percent of all deliveries to the developing world.

The report cites economic concerns for falling global arms sales, though it also attributes the decline to saturation of weapons in militaries and interest in upgrading current stocks rather than purchasing new weapons. And, although globally, the total monetary value of arms agreements fell in 2006, the United States actually saw multi-billion dollar increases in the value of its arms transfer agreements, both globally and with the developing world. Among many other sales, U.S. totals were buoyed by major arms deals with Pakistan – totaling 36 F-16 C/D Block 50/52 fighter jets worth $1.4 billion, as well as the munitions for those aircraft worth $640 million; upgrades to the Saudi APACHE helicopters worth $340 million; and Evolved Seasparrow Ship to Air missiles to the United Arab Emirates for $106 million.

The Grimmett report also contains analysis of global arms trade trends. Russia’s increased sales to Latin America, particularly Venezuela, are of particular concern to the U.S. policy-makers as President Hugo Chavez has made no secret of his blatant hostility toward the United States. The report also finds that European suppliers, such as France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany, tend to provide weapons to countries with which they have long-term relationships or when they specialize in a specific weapons system. The report explains that Western European suppliers often provide weaponry to countries that the United States does not supply because of policy determinations.

Although Russia’s relationship with Latin American countries may frustrate the United States, neither Russian nor European inroads with potential customers are seen as any threat to the U.S. dominance of the global arms market for the foreseeable future. Traditional U.S. allies in Europe and the Near East, as well as emerging military partners in Africa and Asia, will continue to prefer U.S. weapons to those produced by Russia, Europe, or China, due to the perceived superiority of U.S. weaponry and the interest in cementing political and strategic alliances with the United States. 

Moreover, the United States is continuing to develop new military relationships with potential customers. The United States is providing substantial amounts of weaponry to countries that support the “global war on terror,” and arms sales and military assistance to countries providing strategic assistance to the United States are on the rise. In addition, the United States has adopted new programs and policies to funnel arms to countries outside traditional avenues of support. These new Defense Department programs provide training and weapons for counter-terrorism operations. As such, they are funded outside of the Foreign Operations budget and are not bound by the restrictions that govern traditional military sales and assistance under the State Department’s oversight. Indeed, when these non-traditional sources of weaponry are included in the discussion, the U.S. domination of global arms sales is amplified even more.  As new arms sales are announced to support the “war on terror,” and as the United Nations announces their plans to discuss an Arms Trade Treaty, which would establish international criteria for arms exports, the Grimmet report serves as an important foundation for dialogue and deeper examination of the U.S. arms trade policy and arms sales around the world.

For more information, please see the CRS Report for Congress, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1998-2005” by Richard F. Grimmett, at http://www.fas.org/asmp/resources/110th/RL34187.pdf;
Source: Center for Defense Information-CDI-

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