As unfortunate as it may be, war is big money. And it’s because of that uncomfortable fact, at least in part, that the world’s powers seem locked in a state of perpetual aggression, constantly squabbling over resources, strategic geography, and all manner of other things. This, naturally, means that soldiers need to be outfitted, air forces need aircraft, and that navies need warships — basically a heaping pile of demand just waiting to be supplied.
Enter the world’s defense companies, war contractors, and arms manufacturers.
Most Americans are familiar with big names like Boeing or Lockheed Martin, both very successful businesses that owe a portion of their success to the Department of Defense’s constant thirst for newer, more powerful weaponry. The truth is, as defense budgets have grown increasingly swollen over the years, so has the market for arms manufacturing, and thus, arms exports. That means that guns, ammunition, vehicles, missiles, and many other pieces of equipment are consistently changing hands on an international scale, finding their way to those who are willing to get the most bang for their buck, in a literal sense.
As we’ve plowed into the 21st century, worldwide conflicts continue to rage on. As a result, so does the arms trade. A recent study from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which looked into trends in international arms transfers, has shown that while growing economies like China are starting to play an important role in the overall scheme of things, it’s still countries like the U.S. and Russia that are flooding the international market with weaponry.
That’s in spite of a growing and concerted call for peace, and putting an end to America’s often-hostile foreign policy approach.
Digging into the numbers from SIPRI, the U.S. and Russia combined, account for more than half of all the world’s weapons exports. According to SIPRI’s calculations, the United States alone accounts for 31% of the world’s arms exports, and Russia accounts for 27%. Behind those two front-runners, China, Germany, and France all come in at 5%. Clearly, there’s quite the rift.
The question is, what causes that rift? There are a variety of factors, but the foremost is simply the amount of capital and investment going toward the war and arms industries. There are billions going toward research and development of new weapons for the American and Russian militaries, and usually money can pay for the best and brightest talent to create it. The U.S., for example, is where the money is. And coupled with huge defense contracts, it only makes sense that America would be looking to offload its older weapons to make room for the newer ones.
Another question: where are all those guns, missiles, and tanks headed? “The flow of arms to Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East increased significantly between 2005–2009 and 2010–14, while there was a notable decrease in the flow to Europe,” SIPRI says. That makes sense, given that Europe — with the notable exception of conflicts in the Ukraine — is relatively peaceful. The Middle East and parts of Asia, however, are not.
SIPRI’s study identifies the main clients, or purchasers of arms, as mostly Asian countries. America’s main client is South Korea, followed closely by UAE and Australia. Russia’s main customers are India and China. As huge caches of weapons head to Asia and Oceania, it’s fair to wonder what exactly the future holds for some of these areas. For example, if China and India are both buying huge stockpiles of arms from Russia, what are they preparing for? Is South Korea preparing a defensive stance from it’s hostile northern neighbor? The numbers can really get the mind running wild.
But that’s a discussion for anther time. For clarity’s sake, here is the list of the world’s top 10 arms exporters, along with their respective shares of global exports between 2010 and 2014, from SIPRI:
- United States: 31%
- Russia: 27%
- China: 5%
- Germany: 5%
- France: 5%
- U.K.: 4%
- Spain: 3%
- Italy: 3%
- Ukraine: 3%
- Israel: 2%
See the entire study from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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