America’s Role in the International Arms Race

Military, Politics

Even in the face of a global financial crisis, countries of all sizes—developed and developing—are buying expensive new weapons systems at alarming rates.

Arms transfers for 2005-2009 were 22 percent higher than in 2000-2004. We are truly in the midst of an international arms race.

But what is America’s role in this arms race? How much weaponry are we purchasing? And how much are we exporting to countries across the globe? Also, who are some of the other major players in the international arms race?

US leads the way in arms exports

According to the most recent report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institution (SIPRI), America was the largest arms exporter for the period 2005-2009, accounting for 30% of world deliveries. The only country even close to matching the USA’s high rate of arms exporting during this period was Russia, responsible for 23% of all exporting. All other countries trailed significantly behind these two.

In the same report, the SIPRI finds that the value of arms exports and arms exports agreements for the United States ranges between $30 billion and $50 billion each year. That’s quite a bit of money made from helping other countries build up their militaries.

The study found that “Combat aircraft and associated weapons and components accounted for 48 per cent of the volume of US deliveries of major conventional weapons during this period. Deliveries included 72 F-16E combat aircraft to the United Arab Emirates, 52 F-16I combat aircraft to Israel and 40 F-15K combat aircraft to South Korea.”

So, this begs the question, who all is America selling weapons to? A number of countries, including:

The list goes on and on, but you get the point. We’re selling a lot of weaponry to a lot of different countries.

China imports highest number of arms

Which countries were importing arms at the highest rate from 2005-2009? The top 20 buyers were:

1. China

2. India

3. South Korea

4. United Arab Emirates

5. Greece

6. Israel

7. Singapore

8. USA

9. Algeria

10. Pakistan

11. Turkey

12. Malaysia

13. Chile

14. Australia

15. Egypt

16. Poland

17. Venezuela

18. Japan

19. South Africa

20. Norway

By region, the major recipients were Asia and Oceania (41%), Europe (24%), the Middle East (17%), the Americas (11%), and Africa (7%).

What’s most alarming is that many of these countries saw massive increases in the amount of arms purchased between the two five-year periods. For example, imports of major arms to Singapore increased by 146% from during 2005-2009 over 2000-2004. Indonesia saw and 84% increase in their imports. But that’s nothing compared to Malaysia, where a 722% increase took place. Latin American countries have also done drastic military buildups over the past several years.

Why the sudden increase in military spending?

What has made countries start spending billions of dollars to bolster their militaries? There are many different reasons for this, including:

  • Regional rivalries (Turkey/Greece, China/Taiwan, India/Pakistan, etc.)
  • Replacing outdated military equipment with the latest technology
  • Protection of valuable assets, such as oil
  • Keeping up with the Joneses

As the trend of weapons purchases continues to rise upward, it will be very interesting to see where things stand five years from now when the next SIPRI report is released.

Arms control law

Internally, US arms exports are controlled by the The Arms Export Control Act.  It outlines the purposes for which arms can be sold, and then sets up the procedures for notifying Congress, payments and other details. Internationally, the sale of arms is a bit more of a mess. However, the US and other countries are in talks to sign a global arms control treaty. The treaty is just a concept now and won’t even be drafted until 2012. It could be years later until all parties agree and sign it.