Global Arms Sales Show Decline, but Upswing Could Come Soon

Arms Control Today, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Global Arms Sales Show Decline, but Upswing Could Come Soon


According to the 1991-1992 annual report recently published by the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), the global arms trade is undergoing a fundamental shift. And while it is no longer a surprise that the United States has vastly outstripped the former Soviet Union as the world's most prolific arms exporter, the 22nd edition of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT), which includes data from 1991, shows in sharp profile how the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War affected the proliferation of conventional weapons worldwide.

The overall arms sales agreements throughout the world have plummeted dramatically in recent years, from a record high of $71 billion in 1985 to $32 billion in 1991. Based on preliminary figures for 1992, WMEAT reports that the actual delivery of arms dropped to an estimated $20 billion.

DECREASES EVERYWHERE

Every major region was effected by this trend, with Africa showing the greatest decrease. Arms imports to the Middle East declined in the late 1980s, but still command 41 percent of total arms imports, making it the world's largest arms buying region. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia became the leading arms importer in 1989 and increased its lead in 1991 when it purchased $7 billion in weapons equipment--64 percent of all purchases in the region. Europe and East Asia are the next largest arms-importing regions, accounting for 14.6 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.

As the current decade progresses, most analysts project the worldwide decline in arms markets will most likely continue in some regions and slightly reverse in others. A continued decline is particularly likely to be felt in Eastern Europe and in the developing world, where many states are increasingly unable to finance large arms procurement.

Nonetheless, some analysts expect the demand for weapons to grow in South America. Defense industry officials think the improving economic conditions in that region will continue, prompting states to modernize their military infrastructures, especially with such items as helicopters, light tanks and tactical aircraft. Chile is also reportedly hoping to replace at least two of its submarines.

According to WMEAT, it is unlikely that arms exports to the Middle East will reach the volumes of the mid-1980s ($31 billion in 1984), but the region seems likely to maintain its position as the preeminent arms importing region despite the efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization to reach a peaceful settlement. In addition to Saudi Arabia, countries such as Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Iran and the United Arab Emirates are all active buyers of sophisticated weapons and have long-term purchasing plans.

MOUNTING SALES TO EAST ASIA

East Asia is another region that experts project to be an active market for arms sales well into the 1990s. The rapidly expanding economic prosperity in the region is promoting states to upgrade or replace aging hardware with weapons that are increasingly available at cheap prices. China, Taiwan and South Korea drive the arms market in Northeast Asia and Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are significant buyers in Southeast Asia.

In terms of weapons exporters, the WMEAT report says sales by the Soviet Union, which led the world throughout the 1980s, declined significantly in the latter years of the decade. The most dramatic decrease occurred in 1991, when Soviet arms exports fell by 55 percent from the previous year. …

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Global Arms Sales Show Decline, but Upswing Could Come Soon
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