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former IAEA Director-General

U.S. Continues to Lead in World Arms Exports
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Wade Boese

The United States remained the pre-eminent seller in the global arms market last year, according to data in an annual arms-export report released August 16 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). During 2000, the United States accounted for more than half the value of all new arms agreements signed and nearly half the value of weapons delivered worldwide.

Global arms sales agreements rose in 2000 for the third consecutive year since 1997, when they fell to their lowest level in the eight-year period covered by the CRS report, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993-2000. The value of agreements in 2000 equaled nearly $36.9 billion, marking almost a $3 billion expansion from 1999 and the second highest total for the period after the 1993 high of $41 billion. (All figures, unless noted, are in constant 2000 dollars.)

With a $6.4 billion sale of 80 F-16C/D fighter aircraft to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), the United States had sales totaling $18.5 billion, far more than other suppliers. Russia ranked second with $7.7 billion in agreements, almost doubling its 1999 total of $4 billion. Major sales to its main customers, India and China, accounted for much of Moscow’s total. France had the third-highest sales amount, signing $4.1 billion in agreements.

While new global arms sales agreements grew, actual weapons deliveries continued to decline. After reaching a high point of $45 billion in 1997, arms exports dropped each subsequent year, falling to $29 billion in 2000. Typically, a time lag exists between an agreement’s signing and implementation, which helps explains why the highest mark for arms deliveries occurred four years after the peak for agreements and why the lowest level for deliveries came three years after the fewest agreements were concluded.

In 2000, U.S. deliveries dropped by $4.5 billion from the previous year to $14 billion. The United Kingdom, which ranked second for the second consecutive year behind the United States, tallied $5.1 billion in deliveries. Russia trailed with $3.5 billion in weapons shipments, and France followed with $1.5 billion.

Developing countries continued to lead in weapons purchases and imports, accounting for roughly two-thirds of arms deals and shipments. Richard Grimmett, author of the CRS report, classified all countries as developing, except the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and European states.

Because of its F-16 fighter purchase, the U.A.E. topped all buyers from developing countries in 2000 with $7.4 billion in new deals, while its neighbor, Saudi Arabia, took delivery of $7.3 billion in weapons, making it last year’s top recipient. Over the entire eight-year period, Saudi Arabia imported weapons worth nearly $66 billion (current dollars), which is more than three times the second biggest recipient, Taiwan.

Although the purchasing power of countries in the Near East and Asia, the two regions that account for roughly 90 percent of the developing world’s arms market, has started to rebound with rising oil prices and recovery from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Grimmett predicted that the market will “remain generally static for the foreseeable future.” But if demand grows, Grimmett ventured, “the United States seems best positioned to lead in new arms agreements.”


Posted: September 1, 2001