The United States is still at the top of the world’s arms sellers, with 36% of the total market share for the 2014-18 period. Its main customers are, in descending order, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the UAE.
These numbers were published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a prestigious Swedish institute conducting research into global peace. In the top of arms sellers, the US is followed by Russia with 21%, which exports its arms mainly to Egypt, India and Algeria; France, with 7% of the total, which exported mainly to Egypt, India and Saudi Arabia; Germany with 6.4%; and China with 5.2%. The UK ranks sixth with 4.2%, selling arms mostly to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Indonesia.
Compared to the previous period, the data show a significant increase in US arms sales, a decline in those of Russia and a strong growth in French arms exports. In this unflattering ranking, Italy is found in ninth place with 2.3% of the total market share, while the top buyers of Italian-made weapons are Turkey, Algeria and Israel. Despite the very strict Italian legislation aimed at prohibiting the sale of weapons to be used in ongoing conflicts, this list of clients looks very worrying: Turkey has been actively engaged in fighting the Kurds for years, both within its borders and in Syria, while Israel has been conducting a military occupation of the Palestinian Territories for much longer.
The data from SIPRI show that the worldwide arms market is still growing (+8% over the 2009-13 period, after it grew by 23% over the 2004-08 period). However, the current growth is being driven by the increased military spending by Middle Eastern countries, which have almost doubled their arms imports, while all the other regions of the planet have seen lower levels of arms purchases. This is due mainly to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest arms importer, which has tripled its purchases, as well as to Egypt, which ranks third worldwide among arms buyers, one position below India. Even Iraq, placed eighth, has more than doubled its arms purchases, while Qatar—in 14th place—has tripled them, as has Oman, which placed 18th. As for Israel, it has bought 3.5 times more arms than in the previous period. However, a different tendency can be seen in the case of the United Arab Emirates, the seventh arms purchaser worldwide, which slightly reduced its spending over the previous period.
Trump himself accounts for an important part of these developments, as he secured a large arms sales contract to Saudi Arabia, signed in May 2017 and worth a total of $110 billion—more fuel to pour on the fire of the various conflicts in the area. As can be seen from the worldwide rankings, the most warmongering countries and those who are ruled by dictatorships are in the lead among the clients of the military industry, and it is implausible to think that such quantities of weapons are destined to be deployed only in military parades. Instead, they are being used to foment new tensions and bring more death and ruin, mostly to the civilian populations, while making it even harder to find a diplomatic solution for conflicts.
Particularly striking is the fact that Greece is in 28th place among the clients of the arms industry, despite the draconian financial monitoring imposed on the country by the European Union and international financial institutions. No less notable is the fact that it purchased the weapons, ironically enough, from none other than Germany. It might be appropriate for the institutions to no longer confine themselves to monitoring the deficit-GDP ratio cap, but also impose serious cuts in wasteful military spending.
Some say that, in recessionary times, it’s better not to touch the military industry—this seems to be the approach adopted by the Italian yellow-green government, as this industry creates jobs and thus bolsters their electoral support. But there are some, at least, who are opposed to this cynical approach.
For instance, the European Parliament and the US Senate have both spoken out in favor of barring further weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a war in Yemen, and Germany has taken a similar position. The Foreign Minister in Berlin has confirmed the ban on exporting weapons to the Arab kingdom, and these developments have given rise to many worries in London, since the British BAE Systems has signed a contract worth billions with Saudi Arabia for the delivery and maintenance of Eurofighter aircraft. They will also have to face the necessity to convert such contracts toward more peaceful civilian purposes.
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