BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2019/11

The latest report on global arms transfers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that, during the latest five-year study period (2014–2018), arms transfers rose 8 % from the previous period (2009–2013). Three-quarters of global arms transfers involved the United States (36 %), Russia (21 %), France (7 %), Germany (6 %) and China (5 %).

The volume of China’s arms transfers in 2014–2018 rose by less than 3 % from the 2009–2013 period. The figures suggest growth in China’s arms exports has slowed radically from the boom years at the start of this decade. The number of customer countries, however, increased from the previous five-year period from 41 to 53 countries, even if arms supplies continued to focus on Pakistan (37 % share), Bangladesh (16 %) and Algeria (11 %). China’s arms export possibilities are limited by political reluctance in many countries to purchase Chinese arms. SIPRI notes that, among the world’s top 10 arms importers, India, Australia, South Korea and Vietnam do not buy any arms from China. Asia and Oceania account for 70 % of Chinese arms exports, Africa 20 % and the Middle East 6 %.

China is the world’s largest exporter of drones for military use. Part of the reason is that the United States and Israel restrict the sale of their military drones to others.

Even with own arms production capabilities, China was the world’s sixth largest importer of arms in the 2014–2018 period after Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and Algeria, accounting for just over 4 % of global imports. Although the volume of imports fell (down 7 % from the previous five-year period), China is still dependent on imports of e.g. engines for fighter jets and ships, and air defence missiles. Russia accounts for 70 % of Chinese arms imports, France 10 % and Ukraine 9 %.

The volume of Russian arms exports dropped by 17 % during the 2014–2018 period relative to the previous five-year period. SIPRI reports that much of the decline came from a 42 % drop in exports to India and a total collapse in exports to Venezuela. Even so, India is still Russia’s top arms customer with 27 % share, followed by China (14 %) and Algeria (14 %). Russia exports arms to 55 countries. Asia and Oceania account for 60 % of exports, Africa 17 %, the Middle East 16 %, Europe 6 % and Americas just over 1 %. Russian arms imports are insignificant at the moment.