Business as Usual: How major weapons exporters arm the world’s conflicts

This report is part of the WPF research program, Defense industries, Foreign Policies and Armed Conflict, funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and carried out in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics.

The harmful impact of arms transfers on conflict has been well-documented by campaigners, humanitarian NGOs, and the United Nations. Further, researchers have found evidence that arms transfers to a state increase the likelihood of conflict breaking out; and, once begun, render conflicts longer and more deadly.

Recognizing these detrimental impacts, in recent decades, policymakers committed to a range of measures designed to control arms exports. These controls were especially focused on limiting sales when conflicts involve patterns of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. In subsequent years, there have been heated debates about whether sales should proceed in a number of particular instances, but there is no comprehensive assessment of the overall impact of policies designed to limit arms sales to countries involved in conflicts.

This research provides the first global analysis of how conflict in, or involving, a recipient state, impacts exporters’ willingness supply arms. It analyses the top eleven global arms suppliers over the ten-year period 2009-2018. Listed in order by the volume of major conventional weapons transfers, these global sales leaders are: the United States, Russia, Germany, France, China, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and Ukraine. These countries assert widely varying formal policies regarding arms exports, but the empirical record is, for the most part, remarkably similar.

Access the full report (above). For a concise overview, access the Executive Summary, available in English, Arabic, and French.

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