US Firms Up Spot as No. 1 Arms Supplier to South

Bolstered in part by major new arms agreements with Pakistan, the United States reclaimed its ranking as the developing world’s biggest supplier of conventional arms in 2006, according to a new report [.pdf] by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Washington agreed to transfer a total of $10.3 billion in arms to developing countries in 2006, or 36 percent of the value of all arms-transfer agreements signed by developing countries during the year.

Pakistan, whose nuclear-armed military government is increasingly under siege by both its civilian opposition and a Taliban-like rebellion in the country’s Pashtun belt, also emerged as the developing world’s biggest recipient of new arms deals last year.

It signed orders for $5.1 billion worth of weapons in 2006. That was some 50 percent more than the new arms ordered by its regional arch-rival, India, which ranked second, and by Saudi Arabia, which ranked third, according to the 98-page report.

Two relative newcomers as major arms buyers – Venezuela and Algeria – also made record orders, landing them in the fourth and fifth spots for the year. Venezuela agreed to buy some $3.1 billion worth of weapons, while Algeria signed arms accords worth $2.1 billion, according to the report, "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006."

The supplier in both cases was Russia, which, with a total of $8.1 billion in total sales to developing countries in 2006, ranked second in new orders behind the United States. In 2005, Russia displaced Washington as the top arms supplier to developing countries for the first time in eight years.

Leading other members of the European Union (EU), Britain ranked third in 2006 with $3.1 billion in transfer agreements, or nearly 11 percent of the nearly $29 billion ordered by developing countries during the year.

As a group, the four biggest Western European suppliers – France, Britain, Germany, and Italy – accounted for only 19 percent of that total, down substantially from the nearly 35 percent they claimed in 2005.

The report, which is prepared each year by CRS’ top arms expert, Richard Grimmett, is widely considered to be one of the most authoritative on the conventional arms trade because it is based on classified information, as well as public data, and its methodology has remained constant for some two decades. Its statistics include both military sales and assistance.

As in previous reports, the latest distinguishes between arms agreements that have been signed during the previous year and actual arms deliveries that take place during the year. Actual deliveries often fall short of what agreements originally called for.

According to the report, the value of all arms transfer agreements worldwide in 2006 came to $40.3 billion, down 13 percent from the previous year’s total. Among suppliers, the U.S. accounted for nearly $17 billion – up from $13.5 billion in 2005 – while Russia accounted for some $8.7 billion, and Britain ranked third with $3.1 billion in transfers.

Among arms consumers, developing countries accounted for 71.5 percent of all 2006 transfer agreements, up from than their 2003-2006 average of 65.7 percent.

The value of actual arms deliveries worldwide came to $27 billion in 2006, of which the U.S., with $14 billion worth of deliveries, accounted for nearly 52 percent. It was the eighth year in a row that Washington led in global arms deliveries. With nearly $6 billion and $3.3 billion, respectively, Russia and Britain ranked second and third.

Of the $27 billion total in the value of arms deliveries, developing countries received nearly 74 percent, or $19.9 billion, the lowest annual total in the 1999-2006 total, according to the report.

The U.S. share came to nearly $8 billion, or about 40 percent of the total, while Russia accounted for $5.5 billion or 28 percent, and Britain $3.3 billion or nearly 17 percent.

Among recipients of weapons deliveries, Saudi Arabia topped the list with $4.1 billion worth of arms. It was followed by China, with nearly $3 billion worth of imports; Israel ($1.5 billion); Egypt ($1.4 billion), Taiwan ($1 billion); and India ($800 million). While Russia was the biggest suppliers to both China and India, the U.S. was the main source for the others.

At a total of nearly $46 billion in actual deliveries, Saudi Arabia has been the biggest arms recipient by far among all developing countries. The second-ranking nation during that period was China, at $17 billion, followed by Egypt ($10.9 billion), United Arab Emirates ($10.3 billion), India ($10.1 billion), Taiwan ($10 billion), and Israel ($9.7 billion).

As for new arms agreements, Pakistan’s emergence as the biggest developing-country recipient is particularly remarkable, as it ranked seventh during the period 1999-2006 with a total of $10.9 billion in orders, well behind India ($22.4 billion), China ($17.4 billion), Saudi Arabia ($16.4 billion), and Egypt ($13.3 billion) during that period.

In terms of major regional trends in new transfer agreements, the report found that the Near East has once again become the developing world’s largest arms market after briefly ceding that title to Asia during the period 1999-2002. Since the 2003, it has accounted for nearly half of all developing-country orders.

While the U.S. dominated arms transfer agreements with the Near East during the earlier three-year period, accounting for more than two-thirds of total transfers to the region, Western Europe has made substantial gains, jumping from 6 percent of the value of total transfers to 27 percent in the 2003-2006 period.

Russia, on the other hand, has maintained its rank as the leader in sales to developing nations in Asia, mainly to China and India. Russia accounted for about 37 percent of all sales to the region 1999-2006, compared to Washington’s 25 percent and Europe’s 19 percent. With its new sales to Venezuela, in particular, Russia also ranked first in Latin America with about 30 percent of total sales there 2003-2006.

While the U.S., Russia, and Britain led the pack in new arms transfers agreements in 2006, Israel ranked fifth with $1.3 billion in contracts, just behind Germany ($1.8 billion) and ahead of Sweden ($1.1 billion). China was sixth with $800 million in new agreements.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.