Global arms trade spikes to highest since the end of the Cold War

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armsalesLONDON — The global arms trade reached the highest levels since the end of the Cold War in 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Monday.

The spike was fueled by the conflicts in the Middle East and the South China Sea, and the perceived threat from Russia from that country’s neighbors.

The U.S. is by far the world’s biggest arms exporter. It was responsible for 33% of all weapons exports in the five year period that ended in 2016. Russia was the second biggest arms supplier, with China trailing third.

“The U.S. has delivered a lot of weapons in 2016, both very expensive weapons and strategically important weapons — missile systems, surveillance and navigation technology,” said Aude Fleurant, the institute’s director of the Arms and Military Expenditure program.

“The weight of the U.S. in the global arms trade is so big that it’s enough to shape the trend,” said Fleurant.

He said the U.S. has delivered major weapons to at least 100 countries in the five year period, significantly higher number than any other supplier.

Of all the weapons the U.S. exported in the last five years, 47% ended up in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, the UEA, and Turkey being the buyers.

Arms imports by countries in the Middle East increased by 86% in the past five years, compared to the five years prior to 2011.

“The tensions in the Middle East have been going on for a number of years, and it is fueling the procurement,” Fleurant said.

Most countries in the Middle East are involved in armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen or on their own territory, like Iraq. The violence in Syria erupted nearly seven years ago, fighting in Yemen has been going on for almost two years.

At the same time, relations remain tense between Iran and its neighbors.

Saudi Arabia’s arms imports increased by 212% in the five years ending at 2016, compared to the previous five years. The UAE saw 63% increase over the same period, while Kuwaiti imports jumped by 175%.

Iraq has been a major weapons buyer in recent years.

Qatar’s imports rose by 245% in the five years period, as part of a procurement program that will multiply its military assets several times, according to the institute.

The rise of oil wealth in the past decade had made it possible for the countries in the Middle East to increase their military procurement.

“Because weapons contracts take a very long time to complete, we are now seeing deliveries that were agreed years ago, when the oil price was high and these countries saw their overall wealth rise,” she Fleurant said.

She said the recent crash in oil prices will inevitably lead to a decline in arms trade in the region.

“But this will show up in the trade volumes in a couple of years because the contracts take very long time to finalize,” she added.

By Ivana Kottasova

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