The volume of international arms transfers in the past 5 years was the highest since 1990
SIPRI’s newly released data shows that the volume of major weapons transfers during 2012–16 increased by 8.4% compared to 2007–11. This is the highest volume of arms transfers during any five-year period since 1990.
SIPRI uses the unique trend-indicator value (TIV) to measure the volume of international transfers of major weapons. This takes into account any transfers of major arms, regardless of the price paid or agreed between the supplier and the recipient.
Asia & Oceania and the Middle East dominate arms imports
SIPRI researchers identified 155 countries that imported major weapons in 2012–16. Nine out of ten of the largest importer countries are in Asia & Oceania and the Middle East, regions that accounted for 43% and 29% of all arms imports, respectively.
India remained the world’s biggest arms importer over the past five years, and increased its share of global arms imports from 9.7% in 2007–11 to 12.8% in 2012–16. Saudi Arabia moved from being the world’s eleventh largest arms importer in 2007–11 with 2.9% of the global share to the world’s second largest arms importer with an 8.2% share.
Explore where each of these recipients got their weapons from in the interactive graphic below. Darker colours indicate that these suppliers provided a higher share of a recipient’s arms imports.
The USA has shifted its arms exports from Pakistan to India
China, India and Pakistan have been major arms importers over the past 20 years. Pakistan‘s arms procurement is driven by a perception of India as a threat, while India is concerned about China and Pakistan. Despite these regional tensions, several arms exporters are willing to supply arms to both sides.
China has reduced arms imports, falling from being the world’s largest importer in the 2000’s to fourth largest in 2016, as its domestic arms industry has become more capable of producing advanced weapons. It is still reliant on imports for certain items, however, such as engines and transport aircraft. India’s arms imports have steadily grown over the past 20 years as, unlike China, it has not established a domestic arms industry that can cater to the demands of the Indian military. Pakistan’s arms imports have fluctuated over the past 20 years but remain lower than India’s.
Russia has been the main arms supplier to both China and India. However, as it does not want to jeopardize its arms trade relation with India, has restricted its arms exports to Pakistan. Between 1997 and 2011, the USA was a major supplier to Pakistan and supplied very few arms to India, but has recently shifted its position and in 2012–16 increased arms exports to India for economic and strategic reasons and significantly reduced exports to Pakistan. China has since become Pakistan’s main supplier.
France has been a significant arms supplier to China and Pakistan. Recently, India has made several major orders for French weapons and, with deliveries expected in the coming years, France is set to become a major supplier to India.
Some large increases in arms imports by states in the South China Sea
The South China Sea has been the subject of increasingly bold rhetoric from the Chinese and US Governments in recent months. Territorial disputes involve various states but have been particularly heated between China, the Philippines and Viet Nam. SIPRI data shows that both the Philippines and Viet Nam have made large increases in arms imports, particularly of sea-based arms. The Philippines has increased arms imports by 426% between 2012–16 compared to 2007–11 and Viet Nam has increased arms imports by 202% over the same period.
Taiwan increased its arms imports by 647% and Indonesia increased arms imports by 70%. Singapore’s imports of major weapons decreased by 47%, but it is still absorbing major acquisitions from 2007–11. Malaysia’s arms imports dropped after major arms procurement programmes were finished in 2007–11.
Imports by the Arab States of the Gulf are much higher than imports by Iran
SIPRI data shows that major arms imports by the Arab States of the Gulf and major arms imports to Iran are highly unbalanced. A perceived threat from Iran is a key justification for rising arms imports to several of these states both by the states themselves and the countries exporting to them, such as the USA, UK, France and Germany.
All Arab States of the Gulf except Bahrain increased their major arms imports between 2007–11 and 2012–16. Of the states with tense relations with Iran, Qatar has increased arms imports by 245%, Saudi Arabia by 212%, Kuwait by 175%, and UAE by 63%. Bahrain decreased its arms imports by 19%. Iranian arms imports decreased by 27%.
Iran is currently under a partial UN embargo for arms imports, keeping its imports low. In 2016 Iran received four air defence systems from Russia that are not covered by the embargo, which was the first major arms import by the country since 2007. The USA is the main supplier to the Arab States of the Gulf, supplying over 50% of imports by each of these states except Oman.
The USA and Russia export over half of the world’s major weapons
The USA continued to dominate major arms exports, accounting for 33% of all major arms exports and supplying arms to 103 recipients in 2012–16. Russia was the world’s second largest exporter, accounting for 23% of all major arms exports. It supplied arms to 51 recipients in 2012–16 with 70% of its exports going to four countries: India, Viet Nam, China and Algeria.
China was the world’s third largest exporter of major weapons in 2012–16, having just overtaken Germany, France and the UK, all countries with higher exports during 2007–11. Chinese exports went up by 74% in 2012–16 compared to 2007–11, while French and German exports decreased by 5% and 36%, respectively, and British exports increased by 27%.
Use the interactive graphic below to explore the recipients of each arms exporter in more detail. The colours indicate which region of the world a recipient is from.
To find out more detail about international arms transfers of major weapons, please visit the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database or read the Fact Sheet.