For a while at least, it looked like there was one trade that was immune from the global financial crisis. Governments continued buying foreign weapons in 2008 despite the economic turmoil that summer. But in 2009, the financial downturn finally caught up with some of them. Striving to contain soaring budget deficits resulting from declining tax revenues and rising social welfare expenditures, leaders of several developing nations cancelled or deferred many arms purchases, reducing international weapons purchases and deliveries to their lowest levels in years.
But the cutbacks in arms purchases weren’t universal — Asian governments in particular continue to purchase large volumes of foreign weapons.
This trend is underscored in a report, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2002-2009, by Richard F. Grimmett, a specialist in international security with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), a division of the US Library of Congress. As its names implies, the report devotes special attention to recording arms transfers to developing countries, though it also looks at global sales contracts and actual deliveries. Along with the work of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which does a better job at tracking arms transfers between developed countries, the CRS report is considered the most authoritative public source on unclassified global arms sales data.
According to the report, the value of global arms agreements (contracts for future deliveries) was $57.5 billion in 2009, an 8.5 percent fall from record sales in 2008. But in 2007, the value of worldwide arms transfer agreements between all countries amounted to almost $60 billion, a 9.2 percent increase over the $54.9 billion figure in 2006.
So, did the dip in the volume of purchases lead to a reshuffling of the global arms sellers’ pecking order? Not really. The United States still held first place despite signing only $22.6 billion worth of new arms contracts. Although this total was good for 39 percent of the developing world’s arms market, it was a massive drop-off from the 2008 figure of $38.1 billion, which amounted to more than 60 percent of the worldwide total. In addition to fewer contacts for completely new weapons systems, which marked the banner year of 2008, US firms signed fewer military support and services contracts than in that year. Yet Russia remained a distant second place in 2009, concluding $10.4 billion in arms deals, followed by France, with $7.4 billion in new contracts. Germany, Italy, and Britain also remained leading arms sellers, as usual.