The global arms trade has soared to its highest level since the end of the cold war
The global transfer of major weapons systems rose over the past five years to the highest volume since the end of the cold war as the Middle East nearly doubled its imports, according to an annual report on arms sales.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that more weapons were delivered between 2012 and 2016 than any other five-year period since 1990. Saudi Arabia, which leads a military intervention in Yemen that has cost hundreds of civilian lives, was the world’s second largest importer after India, increasing its intake in the five years to 2016 by 212 per cent, mainly from the US and the UK.
Asia was the main recipient region in the world as India dwarfed regional rivals, China and Pakistan, by accounting for 13 per cent of the global imports. While India received most of its arms from Russia, the Saudis relied heavily on US arms. US and Russia together supplied more than half of all exports. China, France and Germany were also among the top five exporters.
“With no regional arms control instruments in place, states in Asia continue to expand their arsenals,” said Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. Vietnam, in particular, dramatically increased imports by 202 per cent, which puts it in the list of 10 largest importers compared to its hitherto position in the 29th place.
“While China is increasingly able to substitute arms imports with indigenous products, India remains dependent on weapons technology from many willing suppliers, including Russia, the USA, European states, Israel and South Korea,” Wezeman said.
Despite staggering figures in the Middle East, which includes a 245 per cent increase in the imports of arms by Qatar, Iran, which is under an arms embargo, received only 1.2 per cent of total arms transfers to the region. In 2016, Iran took delivery of S-300 air defence missile systems from Russia in its first significant import of major weapons system since 2007.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responding to Donald Trump’s warning that the US was putting Iran “on notice” after testing a ballistic missile, had complained that “we spend a fraction of their expenditure on weapons,” referring to Iran’s Arab neighbours.
“Over the past five years, most states in the Middle East have turned primarily to the USA and Europe in their accelerated pursuit of advanced military capabilities”, said Pieter Wezeman, another senior researcher at Sipri.
The high demands for arsenals in the Middle East was in contrast with plummeting oil prices. “Despite low oil prices, countries in the region continued to order more weapons in 2016, perceiving them as crucial tools for dealing with conflicts and regional tensions.”
China solidified its position as a top-tier supplier by increasing exports by 6.2 per cent compared to 3.8 per cent in the period between 2007 and 2011, while Germany decreased its exports by 36 per cent between the same period. Algeria was the largest importer in Africa.
The US’s main three customers were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Saudi Arabia was particularly a lucrative market for the UK, which sold almost half of its total weapons to the monarchy.
“The USA supplies major arms to at least 100 countries around the world — significantly more than any other supplier state,” said Aude Fleurant, director of the Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “Both advanced strike aircraft with cruise missiles and other precision-guided munitions and the latest generation air and missile defence systems account for a significant share of US arms exports.”