Fewer Countries Submit Arms Trade Data to UN Register

FEWER COUNTRIES VOLUNTEERED reports on their exports and imports of major conventional weapons to the 1998 UN Register of Conventional Arms than in any previous year of the register's operation. Yet, the register, dated August 13 with an addendum of October 7, covered much of the 1998 arms market, as most major arms exporters, with the key exception of China, submitted weapons trade data. (Russian data, submitted October 15, was not yet available.) The United States accounted for nearly half of all reported 1998 arms exports worldwide.

Aimed at revealing build-ups of conventional arms, the voluntary register calls on countries to annually report their imports and exports of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and missiles and missile launchers. Countries may also provide information on their military holdings and domestic weapons procurement, as well as relevant arms trade policies. Iraq's acquisition of large stocks of conventional weapons prior to its invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent 1990-91 Persian Gulf War served as the impetus for establishing the register in January 1992.

Annual register participation has generally exceeded 90 countries, but this year only 74 have reported to date. Many of the countries not participating in the 1998 register that have in previous years are those that submit "nil" reports for both imports and exports. Some are suspected of merely being late with their replies, which is common. Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic participated for the first time.

Only two countries, Israel and Iran, reported from the Middle East, while Lesotho, Madagascar and South Africa were the only African countries to take part. Arab states typically boycott the register, charging that it is inadequate because it fails to account for weapons of mass destruction. African states, on the other hand, largely abstain from the register for its lack of small arms categories. In addition, less than a third of Latin American and Caribbean states reported on their arms deals or lack thereof.

China suspended its register participation indefinitely last year to protest U.S. inclusion of arms shipments to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. For 1998, Washington reported 355 weapons exports to Taipei.


A total of 22 countries, including 18 European states, reported 5,622 exports, the lowest export total during the register's seven years of operation. The lack of Russian and Chinese data and the completion of most of the arms deliveries for agreements signed during the post-Gulf War weapons-buying boom account for much of the reduced export total from past registers, which generally totaled more than 7,500 weapons.

The United States ranked first with 2,713 exports, equaling the combined export totals for the next 10 highest weapon suppliers. (The United States revised its data upward from the original submission of 2,700 exports made in May.) Poland moved into second place with a total of 1,018 exports, which was a shipment—initially imported from Bulgaria—comprising 18 120mm mortars and 1,000 mortar rounds to the Congo. The United Kingdom held the third spot with 594 exports, 416 of which were cruise missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

Exporter data revealed Europe as the top destination of arms shipments with a total of 1,625, while the Middle East, including Egypt, received a total of 1,423 weapons. Five exporters—the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Canada—accounted for all the reported exports to the Middle East. Iran claimed 11 weapon imports from Russia.

Missiles and missile launchers (2,465) accounted for 43 percent of the reported weapons exports. In the Middle East, missile deliveries to eight countries accounted for two-thirds of reported arms shipments. Missile systems, according to exporter data, also constituted approximately 55 percent of all Asian and European imports.


Thirty-nine countries reported more than 4,866 total arms imports. (Australia and Singapore listed "several" for their missile imports.) Discounting Poland, which exported its import of 1,018 artillery items, Bangladesh ranked as the top importer with 825 weapons. Bangladesh cited Italy, Yugoslavia, China and France with supplying a total of 465 artillery pieces and China with 232 tanks. Other leading importers included South Korea, which totaled 530 missile systems from the United States, Thailand (359 imports) and Chile (330 imports).

As in past years, little of the exporting and importing data corresponded. For example, the United States claimed exporting only 27 missiles to South Korea. Many of the discrepancies stem from a lack of importing data or differing national accounting procedures for imports and exports. Whereas some countries count an export as physical departure from its territory, others may base it on title transfer.

The 1998 UN Register of Conventional Arms: Top 10 Reporting Exporters and Totals

Region/Country Battle Tanks ACVs Heavy Artillery Combat Aircraft Attack Helicopters Warships Missiles & Launchers Total
United States 120 441 128 232 24 6 1,762 2,713
Poland     1,018         1,018
United Kingdom 65   45 12   4 472 594
Ukraine 137 36     25   29 227
France 95 16 1 28 4   70 214
Netherlands 123 34       1   158
Germany 35 107       5   147
Bulgaria 140             140
Slovak Republic   11         122 133
South Africa   21 24         45
Total for All Countries Reporting Exports 792 737 1,277 282 53 16 2,465 5,622