US Army Himars. Source: SIPRI - Photo: 2024

The US Continues its Pre-eminent Role as the World’s Biggest Arms Supplier

By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK | 11 March 2024 (IDN) — The United States has continued to maintain its pre-eminent role as the world’s biggest single arms supplier, while Russia, a major military power involved in a devastating war with Ukraine, has suffered a decline in its arms exports.

According to the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released March 11, US arms exports grew by 17 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23, and its share of total global arms exports rose from 34 per cent to 42 per cent.

The US delivered major arms to 107 states in 2019–23, more than it has in any previous five-year period and far more than any other arms exporter.

The US and states in Western Europe together accounted for 72 per cent of all arms exports in 2019–23, compared with 62 per cent in 2014–18.

“The US has increased its global role as an arms supplier—an important aspect of its foreign policy—exporting more arms to more countries than it has ever done in the past,’ said Mathew George, Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

“This comes at a time when the US economic and geopolitical dominance is being challenged by emerging powers,” he added.

The SIPRI report documents the continuing domination of the trade in major conventional weapons by a small number of countries.

According to SIPRI data, just five countries—the United States, France, Russia, China, and Germany—accounted for more than 75 per cent of the deliveries of major conventional weapons from 2019 to 2023.

Dr Natalie J. Goldring, a Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues, told IDN, “Even within the concentration of suppliers documented by SIPRI, the United States stands head and shoulders above the rest, accounting for 42 per cent of all major conventional weapons sales during this period. From 2019-2023, the United States accounted for a larger share of weapons deliveries than the next six suppliers combined.”

“With its dominant role in the global arms market, the United States also carries a special responsibility to ensure its weapons are not being used to commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” said Dr Goldring.

Last year, the Biden Administration released a new Conventional Arms Transfer policy, indicating that arms transfers would be blocked when government analysis concluded that “it is more likely than not” that the arms transferred would be used to commit or facilitate the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

“The US government is not living up to this responsibility. With respect to recent transfers to Israel and Saudi Arabia, for example, there seems to be little evidence that this standard has been met,” she pointed out.

Meanwhile, SIPRI figures also indicate around 55 per cent of arms imports by European states in 2019–23 were from the US, up from 35 per cent in 2014–18.

“More than half of arms imports by European states come from the US”, said SIPRI Director Dan Smith, “while at the same time, Europe is responsible for about a third of global arms exports, including large volumes going outside the region, reflecting Europe’s strong military–industrial capacity.”

“Many factors shape European NATO states’ decisions to import from the US, including the goal of maintaining trans-Atlantic relations alongside the more technical, military and cost-related issues. If trans-Atlantic relations change in the coming years, European states’ arms procurement policies may also be modified.”

Still, SIPRI’s numbers don’t reflect the US government’s most recent arms deliveries to Israel since the new report covers deliveries from 2019 to 2023.

The Washington Post recently reported that: “The United States has quietly approved and delivered more than 100 separate foreign military sales to Israel since the Gaza war began Oct. 7, amounting to thousands of precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms and other lethal aid…”

“Even the two arms sales that were made public involved the Biden Administration using an emergency authority to avoid the normal requirements for Congressional consideration.”

Elaborating further, Dr Goldring said: “Is the Biden Administration reducing the size of individual sales in order to evade requirements to notify Congress of these transfers? If these sales are justified, they should be able to withstand Congressional review”.

“Because of the lack of transparency by the Biden Administration, it’s impossible to know which weapons have been transferred to Israel and when. Given that US taxpayers are paying for the Israeli government to purchase billions of dollars’ worth of weapons each year, we have a right to know what’s being done in our names.”

“The bottom line is that it’s time for the US government to fulfil its responsibilities and halt deliveries of weapons and ammunition to Israel. It’s also time to confront the myth that the weapons transfers that US taxpayers are funding give the US government substantial leverage in its negotiations with Israel. Rather than prompting restraint, these weapons are enabling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue destroying Gaza,” declared Dr Goldring.

According to SIPRI, thirty per cent of international arms transfers went to the Middle East in 2019–23. Three Middle Eastern states were among the top 10 importers in 2019–23: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia was the world’s second-largest arms importer in 2019–23, receiving 8.4 per cent of global arms imports in the period. Saudi Arabian arms imports fell by 28 per cent in 2019–23, but this was from a record level in 2014–18.

Qatar increased its arms imports almost fourfold (+396 per cent) between 2014–18 and 2019–23, making it the world’s third biggest arms importer in 2019–23.

The majority of arms imports by Middle Eastern states were supplied by the US (52 per cent), followed by France (12 per cent), Italy (10 per cent) and Germany (7.1 per cent).

“Despite an overall drop in arms imports to the Middle East, they remain high in some states, driven largely by regional conflicts and tensions,” said Zain Hussain, researcher at SIPRI.

“Major arms imported in the past 10 years have been used widely in conflicts in the region, including in Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen. Some states in the Gulf region have imported large volumes of arms to use against the Houthis in Yemen and to counter Iranian influence.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: US Army Himars. Source: SIPRI

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top