ARMS SALESGlobal Arms Trade Falls Slightly, but Imports to Europe, East Asia, and Oceania Rise

Published 15 March 2022

International transfers of major arms saw a slight drop between 2012–16 and 2017–21 (–4.6 per cent). Nevertheless, exports by the United States and France increased substantially, as did imports to states in Europe (+19 per cent), East Asia (+20 per cent) and Oceania (+59 per cent). Transfers to the Middle East remained high, while those to Africa and the Americas decreased, according to new data on global arms transfers published today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  

‘The small decrease in global arms transfers masks large variations between regional trends,’ said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. ‘Whereas there were some positive developments, including South American arms imports reaching their lowest level in 50 years, increasing or continuing high rates of weapons imports to places like Europe, East Asia, Oceania and the Middle East contributed to worrying arms build-ups.’

Europe Sees Biggest Growth in Arms Imports
The biggest growth in arms imports among world regions occurred in Europe. In 2017–21 imports of major arms by European states were 19 percent higher than in 2012–16 and accounted for 13 percent of global arms transfers. The largest arms importers in Europe were the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands. Other European states are also expected to increase their arms imports significantly over the coming decade, having recently placed large orders for major arms, in particular combat aircraft from the USA. Despite armed conflict in eastern Ukraine throughout 2017–21, the country’s imports of major arms in the period were very limited.

‘The severe deterioration in relations between most European states and Russia was an important driver of growth in European arms imports, especially for states that cannot meet all their requirements through their national arms industries,’ said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. ‘Arms transfers also play an important role in transatlantic security relationships.’

Asia and Oceania Imports Down, but Rising in Some Subregions
Asia and Oceania remained the largest importing region for major arms, receiving 43 percent of global transfers in 2017–21, and six states in the region were among the 10 largest importers globally: India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan and Japan. Transfers to the region overall fell slightly (–4.7 percent), but there was wide variation among different subregions.

Arms imports to South Asia fell by 21 percent and those to South East Asia fell by 24 percent between 2012–16 and 2017–21. In the same period, arms imports to Oceania grew by 59 percent, due to a 62 percent increase in Australia’s imports, and imports to East Asia rose by 20 percent.