US, French, German Arms Exports Grew, Russian, Chinese Declined in Past 5 Years, SIPRI Says

US, French, German Arms Exports Grew, Russian, Chinese Declined in Past 5 Years, SIPRI Says

International arms trade of major arms stayed at the same level between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020 but near the post-Cold War peak. Chart: SIPRI

Three of the world’s top five weapon exporters – the United States, France, and Germany – saw their arms exports grow in the past 5 years, while the other two of the top five, Russia and China, sold fewer weapons abroad in the said period, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

SIPRI on Monday published new data on global arms transfers comparing international arms transfers in 2016-2020 with those of the preceding five-period, 2011-2015.

The main conclusion from the new data is one of levelling-off of global arms exports “after years of sharp growth” as “international transfers of major arms stayed at the same level between 2011–15 and 2016–2020.”

Thus, the growth in American, French, and German weapon exports has been largely offset by declining Russian and Chinese arms exports.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute points out that for the first time since the 2001–2005 five-year period, the volume of deliveries of major arms between countries did not increase between 2011–15 and 2016–20.

At the same time, however, the Swedish think-tank stresses that international arms transfers remain close to the highest level since the end of the cold war.

“It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over,” said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

“For example, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could see some countries reassessing their arms imports in the coming years. However, at the same time, even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, several countries signed large contracts for major arms,” he elaborated.

SIPRI’s data shows that the United States remains the world’s largest arms exporter. There was a 15% increase in US arms exports between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020.

America’s global share of arms exports thus grew from 32% to 37% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020, which further widened the gap between the USA and the world’s second largest arms exporter Russia.

In the past five-year period, the USA supplied major arms to 96 states, which is a much longer client list than any of the other leading arms manufacturer countries.

A total of 47% of US arms transfers went to the Middle East region. Saudi Arabia has been the largest foreign client of the American military-industrial complex, accounting for 24% of total US arms exports.

France and Germany, the third and fourth largest weapon exporters, respectively, also experienced substantial growth between in the past 5 years.

Thus, France increased its exports of major arms by 44%, and accounted for 8.2% of global arms exports in 2016–2020.

The top clients of the French defense industry were India, Egypt and Qatar, which together received a total of 59% of French arms exports.

Germany increased its exports of major arms by 21% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020, reaching 5.5% of the global arms trade total. South Korea, Algeria and Egypt were the top foreign markets for German arms.

The world’s second and fifth largest arms exporters, Russia and China, saw their weapon sales decline in the past 5 years.

Russian defense exports dropped by 22% in 2016-2020 to roughly the same level as in 2006-2010. Almost all of this decrease, around 90%, was due to a 53% fall in Russian arms exports to India.

As the world’s second largest exporter of weapons, Russia accounted for 20% of all exports of major arms in 2016–2020.

“Russia substantially increased its arms transfers to China, Algeria and Egypt between 2011–15 and 2016–20, but this did not offset the large drop in its arms exports to India,” said Alexandra Kuimova, researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

“Although Russia has recently signed new large arms deals with several states and its exports will probably gradually increase again in the coming years, it faces strong competition from the USA in most regions,” she forecasts.

World’s No. 5 arms produce, China, saw its arms exports decline by 7.8% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020.

Chinese arms exports accounted for 5.2% of total arms exports in 2016–2020. China’s largest military import clients were Pakistan, Bangladesh and Algeria.

The UK, the world’s 6th largest weapon exporter, saw its arms exports drop by 27% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020. The UK accounted for 3.3% of total arms exports in 2016–20.

Israel was world’s No. 7. Israeli arms exports represented 3.0% of the global total in 2016–2020. They grew by 59% compared with 2011–2015.

South Korea, the 8th largest exporter of weapons with a 2.7% share of global arms exports, saw its foreign sales grow by 210% between 2011-2015 and 2016–2020. It had a 2.7% share of global arms exports.

SIPRI’s data reveals that the biggest growth in arms imports over the past 5 years was seen in the Middle East, as Middle Eastern states imported 25% more major arms in 2016–2020 than they did in 2011–2015.

The Middle Eastern countries with the largest growth in weapon imports were the world’s largest arms importer Saudi Arabia (+61%) as well as Egypt (+136%) and Qatar (+361%).

According to the Stockholm institute, the 25% spike in military purchases in the Middle East over the past 5 years reflected heightening regional strategic competition among several states in the Gulf region.

While imports by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fell by 37% in the said period, several planned deliveries of major arms such as the purchase of 50 F-35 combat aircraft from the USA agreed in 2020 suggest that the UAE will continue to import large volumes of arms.

Egypt, which is involved in disputes with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, has invested heavily in its naval forces, SIPRI notes.

At the same time, Turkey’s arms imports fell by 59% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020. Much of this decline is attributed to the United States deciding to stop deliveries of F-35 combat aircraft to the country in 2019, after Turkey imported Russian air defense systems S400.

Turkey, however, increasing its own domestic production of major arms, and thus reducing its reliance on imports.

The world’s largest importing region for major arms in the past 5 years was Asia and Oceania, which received 42% of global arms transfers in 2016–2020.

“For many states in Asia and Oceania, a growing perception of China as a threat is the main driver for arms imports,” SIPRI Senior Researcher Wezeman commented.

“More large imports are planned, and several states in the region are also aiming to produce their own major arms,” he added.

The biggest weapon importers in Asia and Oceania were India, Australia, China, South Korea and Pakistan.

In addition to being the world’s fifth largest arms exporter, in the past 5 years, China was also the largest arms importer in East Asia. It received a total 4.7% of global arms imports in 2016–2020.

Japan was a major importer as well, with its arms imports growing by 124% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020.

Taiwan’s arms imports in 2016–2020 were lower than in the previous five-year period but it negotiated several large arms procurement orders with the USA in 2019, including for combat aircraft.

India’s weapon imports decreased by 33% between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020. Russia was the most affected supplier from that decline but India’s imports of US arms also fell, by 46%.

According to SIPRI, the drop in Indian arms imports seems to have been mainly due to its complex procurement processes, plus an attempt to reduce its dependence on Russian arms. India, however, is planning large-scale arms imports in the coming years from several suppliers.

Between 2011–2015 and 2016–2020, arms imports by states in Africa declined by 13%, in the Americas by 43%, in Asia and Oceania by 8.3%.

Algeria increased its arms imports by 64% compared with 2011–2015, while arms imports by Morocco were 60% lower.

In 2016–2020, Russia was the largest supplier of arms imports by countries in sub-Saharan Africa with 30% followed by China with 20%, France with 9.5%, and the USA 5.4%.

SIPRO points out that both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are tangled up in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with a major outbreak of fighter in the fall of 2020, have been building up their military capabilities through major arms imports in recent years.

In 2016–2020 Russia accounted for 94% of Armenian arms imports while Israel accounted for 69% of Azerbaijan“s arms imports.



Ivan Dikov, the founder of, is the author of the book “Got Nukes, Mr. Dictator? You Hold on to Them!“, among other books.