European Arms Imports Nearly Double, U.S. and French Exports Rise, and Russian Exports Fall Sharply

France’s arms exports increased by 47 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23 and for the first time it was the second biggest arms exporter, just ahead of Russia. The largest share of France’s arms exports (42 per cent) went to states in Asia and Oceania, and another 34 per cent went to Middle Eastern states. The largest single recipient of French arms exports was India, which accounted for nearly 30 per cent. The increase in French arms exports was largely due to deliveries of combat aircraft to India, Qatar and Egypt.  

‘France is using the opportunity of strong global demand to boost its arms industry through exports,’ said Katarina Djokic, researcher at SIPRI. ‘France has been particularly successful in selling its combat aircraft outside Europe.’

Russian arms exports fell by 53 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23. The decline has been rapid over the course of the past five years, and while Russia exported major arms to 31 states in 2019, it exported to only 12 in 2023. States in Asia and Oceania received 68 per cent of total Russian arms exports in 2019–23, with India accounting for 34 per cent and China for 21 per cent.

Looking at the other top 10 arms exporters after the USA, France and Russia, two saw increases in exports: Italy (+86 per cent) and South Korea (+12 per cent); while five saw decreases: China (–5.3 per cent), Germany (–14 per cent), the United Kingdom (–14 per cent), Spain (–3.3 per cent) and Israel (–25 per cent).

Steep Rise in Arms Imports to Europe
Arms imports by European states were 94 per cent higher in 2019–23 than in 2014–18. Ukraine emerged as the largest European arms importer in 2019–23 and the fourth largest in the world, after at least 30 states supplied major arms as military aid to Ukraine from February 2022.

The 55 per cent of arms imports by European states that were supplied by the USA in 2019–23 was a substantial increase from 35 per cent in 2014–18. The next largest suppliers to the region were Germany and France, which accounted for 6.4 per cent and 4.6 per cent of imports, respectively.

‘With many high-value arms on order—including nearly 800 combat aircraft and combat helicopters—European arms imports are likely to remain at a high level,’ said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. ‘In the past two years we have also seen much greater demand for air defence systems in Europe, spurred on by Russia’s missile campaign against Ukraine.’

Largest Share of Arms Transfers Goes to Asia, with India the World’s Top Arms Importer
Some 37 per cent of transfers of major arms in 2019–23 went to states in Asia and Oceania, the largest share of any region but a slight decrease from 41 per cent in 2014–18. Despite an overall 12 per cent decline in arms imports for the region, imports by several states increased markedly.

For the first time in 25 years, the USA was the largest arms supplier to Asia and Oceania. The USA accounted for 34 per cent of arms imports by states in the region, compared with Russia’s 19 per cent and China’s 13 per cent.

India was the world’s top arms importer. Its arms imports increased by 4.7 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23. Although Russia remained India’s main arms supplier (accounting for 36 per cent of its arms imports), this was the first five-year period since 1960–64 when deliveries from Russia (or the Soviet Union prior to 1991) made up less than half of India’s arms imports. Pakistan also significantly increased its arms imports (+43 per cent). Pakistan was the fifth largest arms importer in 2019–23 and China became even more dominant as its main supplier, providing 82 per cent of its arms imports.

Arms imports by two of China’s East Asian neighbours increased, Japan’s by 155 per cent and South Korea’s by 6.5 per cent. China’s own arms imports shrank by 44 per cent, mainly as a result of substituting imported arms—most of which came from Russia—with locally produced systems.

‘There is little doubt that the sustained high levels of arms imports by Japan and other US allies and partners in Asia and Oceania are largely driven by one key factor: concern over China’s ambitions,’ said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. ‘The USA, which shares their perception of a Chinese threat, is a growing supplier to the region.’

Middle East Imports High Volumes of Arms, Mainly from the U.S. and Europe
Thirty per cent of international arms transfers went to the Middle East in 2019–23. Three Middle Eastern states were among the top 10 importers in 2019–23: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer in 2019–23, receiving 8.4 per cent of global arms imports in the period. Saudi Arabian arms imports fell by 28 per cent in 2019–23, but this was from a record level in 2014–18. Qatar increased its arms imports almost fourfold (+396 per cent) between 2014–18 and 2019–23, making it the world’s third biggest arms importer in 2019–23.

The majority of arms imports by Middle Eastern states were supplied by the USA (52 per cent), followed by France (12 per cent), Italy (10 per cent) and Germany (7.1 per cent).

‘Despite an overall drop in arms imports to the Middle East, they remain high in some states, driven largely by regional conflicts and tensions,’ said Zain Hussain, researcher at SIPRI. ‘Major arms imported in the past 10 years have been used widely in conflicts in the region, including in Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen. Some states in the Gulf region have imported large volumes of arms to use against the Houthis in Yemen and to counter Iranian influence.’

Other Notable Developments:

·  Imports of major arms by states in Africa fell by 52 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23. This was mainly due to large decreases for two North African importers: Algeria (–77 per cent) and Morocco (–46 per cent).

·  Arms imports by states in sub-Saharan Africa decreased by 9.0 per cent. China, which accounted for 19 per cent of deliveries to sub-Saharan Africa, overtook Russia as the region’s main supplier of major arms.

·  Egypt was the world’s seventh largest arms importer in 2019–23. Its imports included more than 20 combat aircraft and a total of 10 major warships aimed at increasing its military reach.

·  Australia was the world’s eighth largest arms importer. Its arms imports decreased by 21 per cent. However, in 2023 it reached an agreement with the UK and the USA on importing at least six nuclear-powered submarines.

·  The USA accounted for 69 per cent and Germany for 30 per cent of arms imports by Israel.

·  Combat aircraft are the main long-range strike weapon but interest in long-range missiles is increasing. In 2019–23 six states ordered or preselected missiles with a range over 1000 kilometres, all from the USA.

·  Arms imports by states in the Americas decreased by 7.2 per cent. The USA was the largest importer in the region, followed by Brazil and Canada.