Global Watch

Weapons trade – no swords into ploughshares yet ...

Arms trade.jpg

Like it was said in Roman times, governments still believe that “if you want peace, prepare for war”.

That is the dark picture that emerges from the latest report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on trends in the international weapons manufacturing.  

According to SIPRI the volume of the international arms trade between 2010 and 2014 increased by 16% compared to the preceding five years.

The main recipient regions over the past five years were Asia and Oceania, accounting for 48% of imports, followed by the Middle East (22%), Europe (12%), the Americas (10%) and Africa (9%).

Over the last ten years arms imports by states in Africa increased by 45%, Asia and Oceania by 37%, the Middle East by 25% and the Americas by 7%. In Europe it decreased by 36%.

Leading manufacturers

Not surprisingly, the USA remains the biggest global arms manufacturer and supplier, confirming that war remains indispensable to the US economy. Without its weapons trade the US economy will be in trouble and unemployment a headache.

USA arms exports rose by 23% in volume since 2005 and its share of international arms exports by 31% between 2010 and 2014.

Hot on the US’ heels is Russia with a 27% share over the same period, while its export of weapons since 2005 increased by 37% compared to the US’ 23%.

Third place goes to China, surpassing Germany as arms manufacturer since the previous SIPRI report. After Germany in fourth place, follows France.

Together, the world’s five largest weapons manufacturers account for 74% of the volume of arms exports.

Rising power of China

China, a relative newcomer to the highly competitive arms manufacturing industry, still lags significantly behind the USA and Russia, but is narrowing the gap.

Since 2005 the Chinese exportation of arms increased by a whopping 143%, by 2010 supplying arms to 35 states worldwide, including 18 in Africa.

By joining the weapons manufacturing industry on such a large scale, China not only succumbed to the fact that supplying weapons to eager clients is a highly lucrative venture helping to balance the books and increase influence, but it also undermined its claimed foreign policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.

In response to criticism often raised that China is only interested in advancing economic benefits and remains unwilling to take a stance and apply pressure on trade partners guilty of human rights abuses and internal suppression, the standard response is that China’s official policy is not to get involved in the internal affairs of allies and business partners.

It extends this policy to include weapons sales to 35 states even though the weapons could be used against internal opposition.     

Middle East

Unsurprisingly, the volatile Middle East remains a major market for weapons. According to the SIPRI report arms imports to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman increased by 71% since 2005.

Saudi Arabia, a conservative Islamic country, ironically under threat from fundamentalist Islamic groups because of its historically close relationship with the US, became the second largest importer of weapons worldwide in the 2010–14 period. It increased the volume of its arms imports fourfold compared to 2005–2009.

Five of the top ten largest importers of conventional weapons over the last five years are in Asia. India was responsible for 15% of global arms imports, followed by China at 5%, Pakistan at 4% and South Korea and Singapore both at 3%.

SIPRI puts this increase down to “high threat perceptions” envisioned by Asian countries. But not to be underestimated, is the effect of the Obama administration’s identification in 2012 of the Asia-Pacific region as “pivotal to US interests”. It will culminate in 60% of American military air and sea power to be redeployed to the region by 2020.

Driving forces

Weapons procurement is subject to threats to national security, real or imagined. The significant decrease in European arms acquisition over the last decade, as recorded by SIPRI, has probably come to a close. Confronted by an increasingly quarrelsome Putin, European states, particularly those geographically close to Russia, is certain to rethink their arms procurement policies.  

African arms imports increased by 45% since 2005 with Algeria the largest importer, followed by Morocco, whose arms imports increased eleven fold. In the light of threats from Islamic fundamentalists, this comes as little surprise. Neither does the arms acquisition by Cameroon and Nigeria, as they carry the brunt of the campaign against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

SIPRI concluded that states in sub-Saharan Africa were responsible for 42% of all weapons imports by African states.

Sudan, caught up in internal strife and a tense relationship with neighbouring South Sudan, was the largest and Uganda the second largest importer in the region, accounting for, respectively, 15% and 14% of the sub-regional total.

2014 was the bloodiest year in sub-Saharan Africa in the past ten years, underscoring the reason for states to seek security in beefing up their armouries with no intention of changing their swords into ploughshares.

by Garth Cilliers

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