Asia-Pacific Continues to Lead Global Weapons Imports

India, China and Pakistan lead for global arms imports. The Asia-Pacific accounts for 47 percent of all imports.

Asia-Pacific Continues to Lead Global Weapons Imports
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2013” report documenting major arms exports among world nations. It finds that the global market for major weapons grew by 14 percent in the 2009-2013 period compared to the 2004-2008 period. The Asia-Pacific region, including Oceania, led in imports, accounting for 47 percent of all global major weapon imports. More specifically, South Asia accounted for 45 percent of the regional total, East Asia 27 percent, Southeast Asia 23 percent, and Oceania 8 percent.

The report’s ranking of the greatest arms exporters and importers contained few surprises. The top exporters continue to be the United States, Russia, Germany, China and France (in that order). While China is the only Asia-Pacific nation in the top five for exports, APAC makes a strong showing in arms imports with India, China, and Pakistan taking the top three places. India’s share of international imports massively outpaces both China and Pakistan, however.

India alone accounts for 14 percent of world arms imports – the only state with a double-digit percentage share of global imports. By comparison, China and Pakistan both account for 5 percent each. In the 2004-2008 era, when China wasn’t quite as economically developed as it is today, it led imports with just 11 percent. Pakistan’s share of imports has doubled from just 2 percent in 2004-2008 to 5 percent today. The SIPRI report emphasizes a simultaneous process of militarization between both India and Pakistan – neighbors who continue to wrangle over the disputed territory of Kashmir and regularly engage in skirmishes. The two countries have fought three conventional wars since their independence in 1947.

SIPRI notes that the Asia and Oceania region has seen a general uptick in militarization and arms imports in recent years. The percentage increase in arms imports within the region between 2004-2008 and 2009-2013 was a hefty 34 percent, led mostly by India. The region’s overall share of global imports changed less, however. In 2004-2008, Asia and Oceania accounted for 40 percent of global imports – today that has increased to 47 percent. Other APAC countries with prominent showings on the imports ranking include Australia, South Korea, and Singapore. Australia’s share of global imports doubled from two percent in 2004-2008 to four percent in 2009-2013. South Korea saw a relative decline in its share, and Singapore saw a modest increase from two percent to three percent.

India’s continued reliance on foreign sources for its major arms needs has been noted as a major strategic disadvantage for some time now, with several strategists calling for a robust indigenous weapons program. India does maintain its Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which has produced competitive weapons technologies like the BrahMos hypersonic cruise missile. The Indian navy also operates an indigenously developed nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, and will inaugurate an indigenously built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, in 2016.