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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Washington Again Ranks as World's Top Arms Supplier
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Wade Boese

IN AN ARMS MARKET characterized by growing supplier competition for fewer major weapon sales, the United States again topped all countries in both world arms sales agreements and deliveries for 1998. Washington, according to an annual Congressional Research Service (CRS) report dated August 4, also led in conventional weapons deals and exports to developing world countries.

Despite low oil prices and regional economic crises, 1998 global arms sales agreements rose to nearly $23 billion from the 1997 mark of $21.4 billion—the lowest total during the eight years covered in the CRS report, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1991-1998 by Richard F. Grimmett. (All figures in constant 1998 dollars.) In the post-Cold War arms market, the highest value of new deals was $37 billion in 1993 when many countries launched modernization programs after the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.

For the sixth time in the past eight years, Washington ranked first in value of deals signed, with agreements worth $7 billion (roughly 31 percent of total). Germany, on the strength of large co-production contracts with Spain for tanks and Malaysia for offshore patrol vessels, was next with $5.5 billion in new deals.

Russia saw its 1998 agreements drop by almost half from 1997 to $1.7 billion, the lowest Russian total in the post-Cold War arms market. With the key exceptions of China and India, many of Moscow's traditional clients lack the necessary cash for purchases or are turning to other suppliers because of realignment with the West or a loss of faith in Russia's ability to reliably supply spare parts and support services.

With implementation of post-Gulf War arms deals winding down, worldwide weapons deliveries dropped from the post-Cold War high of $37.7 billion in 1997 to $29.8 billion in 1998. As in the previous seven years, the United States shipped the most weapons, $10.5 billion worth, around the globe. This figure excludes U.S. commercial arms deliveries, which Grimmett leaves out because the data are incomplete. He does note, however, that the State Department has reported commercial arms deliveries for fiscal years 1991 through 1998 as falling from $1.6 billion to $151 million. The United States is the only country with two separate arms export systems.

France ($6.5 billion) and the United Kingdom ($5.3 billion) rounded out the top three suppliers. China registered its lowest delivery total ($600 million) in eight years, though Grimmett notes that Beijing could pose an "important problem" with sales of advanced missile systems to volatile areas.

Developing world countries—all states except the United States, Russia, European nations, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand—accounted for $13 billion (57 percent) of the agreements and $23 billion (77 percent) of the deliveries. Saudi Arabia, described by Grimmett as being in "significant financial straits," ranked first in agreements ($2.7 billion) and imports ($8.7 billion). Since 1991, Saudi Arabia has become the largest developing world arms importer, with nearly $68 billion in weapons receipts, easily outdistancing Taiwan at $20 billion.

Ranking first in 1998 agreements ($4.5 billion) and deliveries (nearly $8 billion) to the developing world was the United States. France, which ranked first in 1997 agreements, followed with $2.4 billion in agreements and over $6 billion in deliveries.

As in the last few reports, Grimmett predicts that the overall arms trade will remain static in the foreseeable future and that most future weapons deals will cover upgrade and maintenance of previously sold equipment and systems.