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13th Apr 2021

Europe's arms exports see sharp decline

  • France would have been the world's number three if its 'Mistral' warship deal on Russia had gone ahead (Photo: David Monniaux)

The United States and Russia are the world’s leading exporters of arms, while Europe's market share has fallen sharply, according to new data.

The Arms Transfer Database published on Monday (16 March) by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), found that the US accounted for 31 percent of international arms exports between 2010 and 14, compared with 27 percent for Russia.

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Russian exports of major weapons increased by 37 percent between 2005 and 2014.

During the same period, Chinese exports of major arms increased by 143 percent, making it the third largest supplier in 2010–2014, although its global market share of 5 percent puts it way behind the US and Russia.

The flow of arms to Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East increased significantly over the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, Europe was the only region to see a decline in the amount of weapons it imported, with imports falling by 36 percent in the first half of the current decade.

Its share of the global arms trade has also fallen sharply.

In particular, Germany’s share fell from 11 percent to 5 percent, on the back of a 43 percent decrease in exports of major weapons. France, Europe’s second largest arms exporter, saw a 27 percent decline in exports, reducing its share from 8 percent to 5 percent.

However, the Sipri figures show that had a Franco-Russian deal to deliver an amphibious assault ship to Russia not been cancelled due to the latter’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, France would have been the world’s third largest arms exporter.

Sipri believes the ongoing crisis in Ukraine may lead to an uptick in arms imports in Europe after 2014 saw several states bordering Russia increase their spending.

Overall, the five biggest exporters over the 2010–14 period were the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, while India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan were the five biggest importers.

"The US has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the US arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing US military expenditure," said Sipri's Aude Fleurant.

Defence spending has been one of the areas to fall across Europe as governments have sought to reduce their budget deficits.

Last week Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, called on European governments to spend more, warning that a “dangerous gulf” is opening up between the US and EU.

But Estonia is projected to be the only EU country to meet the 2 percent of GDP threshold that every Nato nation has pledged to spend on the military.

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