Global Arms Exports Climbed in 2004

Wade Boese

With the United States and Russia leading the way, arms suppliers shipped roughly 1,200 more major conventional weapons around the globe in 2004 than in 2003, according to reports they volunteered this year to the United Nations.

Since 1992, arms exporters and importers have been called on annually to submit arms trade data to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. The reports cover transactions from the previous year involving battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. The register is supposed to help identify countries that could pose a risk to international or regional stability.

Of the 110 countries to file reports so far this year, 28 claimed to have delivered arms. Although last year’s cumulative total of 5,387 exported arms marks an increase from the previous year, it falls below the register’s 13-year average of approximately 6,700 weapons. Along with 20 other states, 18 of the exporters also reported arms imports. The collective tally for imports was 4,065 weapons.

Exporter and importer data rarely match because countries keep their records differently. A supplier might count a weapon as exported when an ownership title is transferred, but the recipient might not classify the same weapon as imported until it is in actual military service.

Some key arms buyers, such as China and many states in the Middle East, do not regularly participate in the register. But all major arms exporters generally do, providing a window to the legal, worldwide conventional weapons trade. China has boycotted the register since 1998 to protest Washington’s practice of reporting on U.S. arms shipments to Taiwan, which Beijing considers to be a renegade province. Still, exporter reports reveal China as importing 775 arms. Meanwhile, Bangladesh, Gabon, and Pakistan claimed to have received a total of 134 Chinese arms.

Most Arab governments shun the register on the grounds that it provides a distorted picture of the military balance in their region because Israel has no similar reporting obligations on its suspected nuclear weapons arsenal. Aside from Israel, only Jordan and Lebanon have disclosed their arms trade to the register this year.

Despite a decrease of some 300 arms exports from 2003, the United States still delivered more major weapons abroad than any other country in 2004. Nearly three-quarters of its 1,564 exports to 25 countries and Taiwan were missiles and missile launchers. The register counts a single missile the same as one tank, fighter jet, or warship, inflating to some degree the U.S. export total, as well as those of other countries with significant missile exports.

Nevertheless, the United States is indisputably the world’s leading arms dealer even when using a different accounting method. An August report by the Congressional Research Service found that the monetary value of U.S. arms exports in 2004 exceeded $18 billion, far surpassing runner-up Russia’s delivery total of $4.6 billion. (See ACT, October 2005.)

Similarly, Moscow trailed behind Washington in individual weapons shipped. In its register submission, the Kremlin reported exporting 1,090 weapons to 10 countries. China topped Russia’s recipient list with 774 imports, including 749 missiles. Indeed, all but one of China’s imports came from Russia.

The Kremlin’s export data further revealed India and Yemen as prime customers. India took delivery of 10 combat aircraft, one attack helicopter, one warship, and 122 missiles, while Yemen acquired 128 ACVs and two combat aircraft. Neither India nor Yemen has filed register reports this year.

Russia’s clientele included Sudan. Moscow provided nine combat aircraft and four attack helicopters to Khartoum, which the United States accused last year of committing genocide against its population in the Western region of Darfur. Belarus also admitted sending Sudan 39 ACVs.

Nearly doubling its 2003 export total to 735 weapons, Germany ranked third among arms suppliers. Except for eight ACVs to Kuwait and two warships to South Africa, all of Germany’s weapons exports went to fellow European states.

The largest portion of arms deliveries ended up in Europe. Suppliers reported making 1,755 arms exports to more than two dozen European countries, including states of the former Soviet Union. Poland’s 340 imports topped all other totals on the continent.

Asia, stretching from Pakistan to Australia, received 1,576 arms by exporters’ accounts, with China accounting for about half of the imports. Beijing’s rival, India, followed with 372 weapons from a variety of sources, including France, Russia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

The United States is vying to supply India with military hardware in the future, particularly combat aircraft and anti-missile systems. In 2004, Washington made due with its longtime Asian clients: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Seoul received 117 U.S. exports, and Tokyo and Taipei each imported 66 American-made weapons.

Washington also counts among its most loyal arms buyers many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which totaled some 1,485 arms imports. Saudi Arabia led the region’s 11 importers with 423 arms, including 212 from the United States. Exporters attributed 313 deliveries to Jordan, but in its register report, Amman volunteered that it received 4,679 arms, including nearly 4,100 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers from Russia. The register does not require reporting on RPGs.

Slovakia also went beyond its reporting obligations, noting that it exported 4,000 122-millimeter rockets to Egypt and 1,000 122-millimeter rockets to Uganda. Countries are called on to report their exports of launchers of this type but not the rockets themselves.

Neither Jordan’s imported RPGs nor Slovakia’s exported 122-millimeter rockets were included in the cumulative weapons export and import totals because they are weapons that fall outside the register’s reporting categories.

Arms suppliers exported 237 weapons to Africa and 27 arms to Latin America. Countries in these regions typically do not account for much of the arms exports reported to the register because they typically cannot afford to buy or are not in the market for such advanced or expensive weaponry. Instead, the majority of their arms dealings involve small arms and light weapons, such as pistols, rifles, and machine guns, which are not covered by the register.

A group of governmental experts tasked with assessing the register’s operation recommended in August 2003 that countries share more information on their small arms and light weapons transfers. Although the UN General Assembly endorsed this proposal, only Finland, France, and Poland volunteered such data in 2004. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Oct. 17 that the United States is weighing the future inclusion of its small arms and light weapons trade in its register reports.