U.S. Tops Global Arms Exports

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, November 2004 | Go to article overview

U.S. Tops Global Arms Exports


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


Despite a minimal drop in the total number of conventional weapons exported worldwide in 2003, the United States and other top arms exporters, except for Russia, reported increased weapons deliveries for the year, according to submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

Established in 1992, the register calls on all countries to volunteer annual reports on their previous year's imports and exports of seven types of conventional arms: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. Governments established the register to hold exporters more accountable for their arms deals and to expose attempts by any country, such as Iraq during the 1980s, to accumulate excessive weapons stockpiles that could be indicative of aggressive or expansionistic intentions.

Participation in the register has grown from some 90 countries since its inception to roughly 120 annually, including 113 so far this year. Because most key arms exporters regularly submit reports, the register provides a clear picture of major global weapons sales. China, which ceased making register submissions in 1998 to protest U.S. reports on its arms exports to Taiwan, is one notable exception.

Of the two dozen countries reporting exports for 2003, the United States accounted for nearly half of the 4,150 arms shipments. Washington's nearest challenger, Russia, managed only 433 exports after totaling 1,626 the preceding year. The Kremlin's 2002 total was bolstered by deliveries of hundreds of missiles to Kuwait and China. (see ACT, November 2003.)

Cumulative export totals under the register can be misleading because the delivery of a single missile is counted the same as that of one warship, battle tank, or attack helicopter. Missiles, for example, made up 1,077 of the 1,867 U.S. weapons sent abroad.

Another method for assessing the global arms market is by the monetary value of the weapons exported, which is the approach of an annual report by the Congressional Research Service. (see ACT, October 2004.) Both measures, counting weapons individually or summing up their value, reveal that U.S. arms deliveries last year far surpassed those of all other arms exporters.

Aside from the United States and Russia, other top exporters included Germany, Ukraine, France, and South Africa, all of which delivered more weapons in 2003 than 2002. Germany more than tripled its delivery total to 371 exports, while Ukraine and France showed more modest increases of roughly 20 weapons apiece to 272 and 214, respectively. …

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