Arms Trade Flourishing Despite Global Recession

The worldwide arms race has accelerated, most dramatically in South America and south-east Asia, despite the economic and financial slump, according to a report published today.

The average volume of arms sales increased by 22% over the past five years, compared to the previous five-year period, says the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The last two of these years were marked by worldwide economic turbulence which has far from stabilised, yet the arms trade is booming, it finds. The report does not give the cost of the arms trade because most governments no longer release the figures. Britain stopped publishing the cost of its arms sales last year.

The US remains the world’s top arms exporter, accounting for 30% of the total, followed by Russia (23%), Germany (11%), and France (8%).

Britain, with 4%, saw a fall in the volume of its exports, as the delivery of 72 of its Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia was only just getting under way in the period covered by the report. Germany’s arms exports have risen by more than 100%, mainly because of sales of armoured vehicles, says the report. Arms sales to South America rose by 150%, raising the spectre of an arms race in the region. Last year Venezuela received $2.2bn (£1.4bn) in credit from Russia for the purchase of air defence systems, artillery, armoured cars, and tanks. Mark Bromley, SIPRI researcher and Latin America expert, said: “We see evidence of competitive behaviour in arms acquisitions in South America. This clearly shows we need improved transparency and confidence-building measures to reduce tension in the region.”

In south-east Asia, arms sales to Indonesia and Malaysia increased significantly, while Singapore became the first country in the region to be among the world’s top 10 arms importers, since the end of the Vietnam war. SIPRI Asia expert Siemon Wezeman said: “In 2009, Vietnam became the latest south-east Asian state to order long-range combat aircraft and submarines.” He added: “The current wave of acquisitions could destabilise the region, jeopardising decades of peace.”

China was the world’s biggest arms importer over the past five years, with 9% of the total, followed by India, South Korea, the UAE and Greece, traditionally a big weapons importer and now immersed in a serious economic crisis. Combat aircraft accounted for 39% of major US weapons sales over the past five years, and for 40% of Russian arms sales, according to today’s report.

The report also warns that deliveries of combat aircraft could fuel an arms race in the Middle East, north Africa, South America and south Asia. Meanwhile, Pakistan is importing the first batch of 300 combat aircraft from China and an early warning aircraft from Sweden.


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