Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Major recipients today, major suppliers tomorrow?

by Tilman Brück and Paul Holtom, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

The release of SIPRI’s new data on international arms transfers coincided with the first day of the final UN conference to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). During the last round of negotiations at the UN in July 2012, the discussions seemed far removed from the realities of weapons being smuggled, traded or mis-used in violent conflicts around the world, with devastating effects on millions of innocent people.

This week’s conference provides the last opportunity to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty that will have a real impact on irresponsible arms transfers and contribute towards efforts to combat the illicit arms trade. SIPRI’s new data can provide some key pointers for ensuring that an ATT negotiated in 2013 remains relevant for regulating the arms trade in the future.

New players and new patterns of arms trade

For the past 20 years, the top 5 suppliers of major conventional weapons have been North American and European: the USA, Russia, Germany, France and the UK. Our data has shown over many years how the world divided neatly into arms exporters and arms importers. This was also the perceived reality during much of the ATT preparatory committee meetings and during the July 2012 conference.

However, today we find that the profile of the major suppliers of weapons is changing. A key finding of our work is the rising prominence of China as an arms exporter:

  • For the five-year period 2008-2012, China replaced the UK as the fifth largest arms exporter, accounting for 5 per cent of the volume of major arms exports.
  • China increased the volume of its exports by 162 per cent when comparing the periods 2003-2007 and 2008-2012; the volume of global arms transfers increased by only 17 per cent between these two periods.
  • China recorded the largest increase by far of the major exporters, with the US increasing its exports by 16 per cent and Russia by 27 per cent.
At the same time, SIPRI’s data shows that Europe is declining in importance as an arms exporter: The UK increased its arms exports by only one per cent, while German exports declined by 8 per cent and French exports by 18 per cent.

China's increase as an arms trader is therefore very significant in comparison to the other major suppliers. Although its rise has been primarily driven by a significant increase in the volume of deliveries to Pakistan, it is also being recognised as a potential competitor to Russia and other European suppliers in North Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Major recipients today, major suppliers tomorrow?

For the past decade, China has been one of the world’s major arms recipients. The five largest recipients of major conventional weapons during 2008-2012 were all located in Asia and Oceania: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea and Singapore. Combined, they accounted for 32 per cent of all imports.

Of particular importance for an ATT is that many of the deals that these states have concluded in recent years, and many of the deliveries counted by SIPRI as imports, are for items that are either being assembled or produced under license by indigenous arms producers or are for components for armoured vehicles, aircraft or ships being built in India, China or South Korea.

However, it is not only major recipients that are operating in this way. Regional powers such as Brazil, South Africa and Turkey are also seeking to import technology to boost the ability of their arms industry to compete on international arms markets, and so too are many smaller states around the globe. Even established suppliers such as Russia have concluded deals for the licensed production and transfer of technology for building modern armoured vehicles, ships and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) not only to equip national armed forces but also to boost national arms industries and their export capacities.

What does this mean for the ATT?

In our view, there are two key implications for the ATT.

First, there are a number of UN member states with arms export ambitions that operate with very different practices and understandings of arms trade responsibilities to more established suppliers. A successful ATT would provide clear mechanisms and norms for responsible arms transfers for emerging suppliers.

Second, the ATT needs to ensure that states do not evade their obligations by supplying knock-down kits or concluding licensed production arrangements that they believe to be outside the scope of an ATT. The ATT needs an anti-circumvention clause to close what looks like a significant loophole in the current draft treaty text.

The final UN conference on the ATT represents an important opportunity to establish an international instrument for regulating the international arms trade. However, it needs to correspond with the realities of the international arms trade of today and tomorrow.

Professor Tilman Brück is the Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dr Paul Holtom is the Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

Link to bio Tilman Brück:

Link to bio Paul Holtom: