While the rest of the world is slowly disarming, Europe is quickly doing the opposite, according to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The institute examines and compares the global arms trade over four-year periods, to better reflect overall trends rather than looking at the arms trade over just 12 months.
Among the two most significant trends in the latest report, SIPRI researcher Peter Wezemann told DW, are that arms transfers to European countries have increased dramatically “and that” the role of the United States as an arms supplier to the world has also increased dramatically. “
In the most recent period, 2018-22, the international arms trade decreased by just over 5% compared to the period 2013-2017. By contrast, European countries’ arms imports – the vast majority of which came from the United States – increased by 47%, and those of European NATO countries increased by up to 65%. The reason behind this, unsurprisingly, is Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Increase US exports to Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Japan
in the past, Ukraine It was not a major player in the international arms trade. It manufactured much of its defense equipment domestically, with the rest surviving from the Soviet era. However, in the latest SIPRI report, the country is ranked 14th on the list of arms importers worldwide. Looking at 2022 alone, Ukraine comes in third.
SIPRI usually refers to “arms transfers” in its report, meaning both arms trade and free military aid, the latter of which is Ukraine’s main arms supply. This type of military aid usually consists of obsolete equipment or surplus stocks from donor countries.
The report shows how, because of this, what has been delivered to Ukraine pales in comparison to new arms sales. For example, despite massive US arms shipments to Ukraine last year, Washington still sent goods of greater value to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Japan. Those four countries, in particular, have purchased new and advanced equipment such as combat aircraft, something Ukraine is urgently requesting from Western allies.
France wins and Germany loses
The top five arms exporters are, in order, the United States, Russia, France, China and Germany. Although this ranking has not changed since the last report, there have been significant changes with respect to data from individual countries.
For example, the United States, which is already leading the list, has increased its exports by another 14% and now accounts for 40% of global arms transfers.
A much larger increase of 44% was registered by France, which managed to extend its third-place position. However, such drastic changes are not unusual, according to SIPRI, because there can be particularly large and profitable orders over a given time frame.
This is how Peter Weismann explained the sharp decline in German defense business, 35% less than in the previous report. But, Weizmann said, this time around, “the change in arms exports by France is probably more structural in nature. France has focused a lot on trying to shore up its arms industry and has clearly been successful in doing so in the last decade.”
This was clearly in the mind of the German chancellor Olaf Schulz during Recent visit to India. Western powers are trying to encourage New Delhi to rely less on Russia for weapons. While France has spent years establishing itself as India’s second largest supplier after Moscow, Germany currently does not play a role in Indian arms imports.
China has left major arms markets
Also striking is the decline in Chinese arms exports by 23%, and in general the decrease in the importance of China as a global exporter of arms compared to its economy as a whole.
“China has not succeeded in breaking into some of the major arms markets, sometimes for obvious political reasons,” Weizmann explained. As a result, he said, China does not sell weapons to its rival, India, for example.
He added, “It is surprising that China has also not really succeeded in competing with European and American arms suppliers to most Middle Eastern countries, especially Arab countries.”
Russia surpasses China in African arms exports
As Europe began importing more arms, its share of international arms transfers similarly increased, from 11% in 2013-2017 to 16% in 2018-22. At the same time, arms transfers decreased in all other regions of the world.
One of the most extreme cases was in Africa, where conversions fell by 40%. This did not make the continent more peaceful, Wiseman said.
There are still many armed conflicts across the continent. However, he said, these “countries are not really able to purchase large numbers of advanced weaponry and therefore, in this sense, the total value of arms transfers to the region is not as high as the number of conflicts might suggest”.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Russia has now overtaken China as the largest arms supplier — particularly with its push into Mali. The Sahel country used to buy weapons from a range of countries, including France and the United States. However, after the 2020/21 coup in Mali, these two Western countries began to significantly reduce their business in the country, while Russia expanded its sales.
Another example of the consequences of political upheaval on arms cooperation – in a different region – is Turkey. The NATO member was the seventh largest purchaser of US defense equipment in 2013-2017. But as The relationship between Ankara and Washington has become more tenseTurkey now ranks only 27th.
Future orders act as a prediction
Who will lead the international arms trade in the future? To find out, SIPRI looked at the order books of manufacturers in the major arms exporting countries. Particular attention has been paid to orders for combat aircraft and helicopters, as well as for larger warships such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, submarines and particularly high value weapon systems.
Based on these orders, the United States will remain by far the world’s largest arms supplier. This is evidenced by the fact that about 60% of all combat aircraft and helicopters ordered worldwide are American products. In 2022 alone, 13 countries have ordered a total of 376 combat aircraft and helicopters from US manufacturers.
France has many aircraft and many orders for ships, and therefore is likely to increase its position as an arms exporter. The outlook for Germany is mixed. There are no current orders for German aircraft, but a large number of naval vessels are currently being built in German shipyards.
Russia, the second most important manufacturer in the world, has relatively few orders on the books right now. Many weapons that could have been exported are needed in its ongoing war in Ukraine.
This article was originally written in German.
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