Europe, a new “hot spot” for global arms imports

Europe has seen the strongest growth in the arms trade in the past five years and the trend will accelerate sharply with announcements of rearmament in the face of the new Russian threat, according to a benchmark report published on Monday.

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During the period 2017-2021, the global arms trade fell by 4.6% compared to the previous five years, but jumped by 19% on the European continent, according to this study by the International Institute for Research on Stockholm Peace (Sipri).

“Europe is the new hot spot,” says Siemon Wezeman, co-author of this annual report for more than three decades.

“We are going to increase our military spending enormously, we need a lot of new weapons and a good part will come from imports”, mainly intra-European and American, observes the researcher in an interview with AFP.

Several European countries including Germany have already announced massive military investment plans.

Combat aircraft – led by the very modern but expensive American F-35 – missiles, artillery and other heavy equipment should feed the armies of European countries worried after the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin.


“Most of these things take a bit of time, you have to decide, order, and then produce, so it takes a few years at least. But in reality the trend has already started after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and we are already seeing the effects today,” observes Mr. Wezeman.

Europe’s share in world trade has thus increased from 10 to 13% over the past five years and this share will increase further “substantially”, according to him.

If it is difficult to quantify because of the opacity of many contracts and arms donations, the world arms trade is close to 100 billion dollars a year year after year, according to experts.

According to Sipri, Asia-Oceania has remained the main import zone over the past five years, with 43% of global arms transfers and six of the ten largest importers (India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan and Japan).

Arms trade to the most populous area in the world has declined by around 5% over the past five years, although in detail, East Asia (+20%) and Oceania (+59 %) show strong growth, against a backdrop of growing tensions between Beijing and several Asian capitals.

“Tensions between China and several countries in Asia and Oceania are the main driver of imports in the region,” observes Sipri.

In the Middle East, the second market with 32% of world imports, growth was 3%, driven in particular by investments from Qatar in the face of tensions with its Gulf neighbors.

“Current oil prices mean they’re going to have a lot of revenue, and usually that translates into big arms orders,” Wezeman said.

The Americas and Africa saw their shares decline sharply, falling to around 6% respectively.

By country, India and Saudi Arabia share first place in the world for imports, with 11% each, ahead of Egypt (5.7%), Australia and China (4.8%).

In the world’s top 5 arms exporters, the United States – by far the world leader – and France, number 3, have seen their share increase markedly in five years, rising respectively from 32 to 39% and approximately 6 % to 11%.

China, fourth world exporter (4.6%) and Germany, number five (4.5%) kept their rank but saw their share erode slightly.

“The French have won large orders, in particular because they have made it a priority” with a state support policy for the export of technology transfers “more open than the United States for example”, underlines Siemon Wezemann.

Russia still ranks second, but its share has fallen to 19%. In particular because of the decline in outlets in China, which has become almost completely independent of Russian weapons.

The isolation caused by the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the effect of strong sanctions on the Russian economy, is likely to weigh even more on its arms industry.

“There will certainly be even more stick threats from the American side” towards countries tempted to buy Russian weapons, analyzes Mr. Wezeman, for example towards historical customers of Moscow, such as Algeria or Egypt.

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