The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden is an internationally renowned think tank which produces incisive reports on subjects concerning armaments, including the arms trade. It compiles data accumulated by expert researchers which helps give a snapshot of the world from the point of view of military power and military money. SIPRI holds data in regard to arms exportation going back to 1950, when countries like the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia still existed as individual entities.
In the following list, countries are ranked by the value of arms exported between 2000 and 2012 (the most recent data available). As such, it’s possible to discern the top arms exporters of the 2000s: Unsurprisingly, developed nations are nearly always the suppliers while developing nations are often the buyers. Of course, many developed nations also import a lot of arms because of better quality, cheaper costs or simply because they don’t manufacture their own arms.
SIPRI reported that the world’s military expenditure for 2012 had topped $1.75 trillion and this is despite the fact that some of the big spenders on our list are some seemingly peace-loving nations. It seems the arms trade is just business: It is largely an exercise in power, while such a wide and economically strong industry as the arms industry seems to be beyond questions of integrity and even international politics.
The monetary figures used to compile this list are valued at 1990s prices and are simply used to estimate the actual volume of arms transfers, the solid facts of which would be almost impossible to acquire without error due to illegal trades, off-the-books deals and erroneous data reporting. This is simply a good indicator of who makes – and more importantly who exports – the largest wealth of arms.
10. Ukraine: $6,288 million
Ukraine is rapidly catching up with the big players in arms exportation. In 2012 Ukraine exported an estimated $1,334 million worth of arms, which made the country the fourth-biggest arms exporter for that year. Considering this value is expressed in 1990s prices, the real current value would be much higher. Importers have been turning to Ukraine because of the country’s renowned aircraft-building and shipbuilding facilities. Antonov is a famous Ukrainian company based in Kiev known for its huge airplanes, like the 226 ft long Antonov An-124 Ruslan. Ironically, Ukraine is a non-aligned state.
9. Israel: $6,375 million
Israel is known for its arms manufacturers. Companies such as Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Israel Weapon Industries supply the Israel Defense Forces and agreed partners around the world. The famous handgun, the Desert Eagle, was created by US firm Magnum Research in conjunction with IMI. Another world-famous Israeli weapon is the Uzi submachine gun. Millions of Uzis have been built and sold around the world since their creation in 1948.
8. Italy: $6,708 million
Italy is home to names such as Beretta, Finmeccanica and Benelli (although Beretta owns the latter company). Semi-automatic pistols manufactured by Beretta are used worldwide by police, military and civilian users. The Beretta 8000 (Cougar) has been used in countries such as Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Slovenia and the USA, with a special variety of the firearm being produced for the Los Angeles Police Department (8045 LAPD).
7. Netherlands: $6,909 million
It could be something of a surprise to find the Netherlands on this list. Although not a neutral country like Switzerland (the 13th biggest arms exporter) or Sweden (the 11th biggest arms exporter), the Netherlands is highly regarded around the globe for its liberal and peaceful policies. However, as shown by the high rankings of both Switzerland and Sweden, the Netherlands is proof that no matter what social policy a country operates, business is business. In the 2000s, the Dutch military sold off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of surplus equipment, such as Leopard tanks, armored vehicles and even frigates.
6. China: $10,255 million
Outstripping the Netherlands by quite a margin, but still lagging far behind the top four exporters, is China. Norinco, which is a relatively new company founded in only 1980 (in contrast, Italy’s Beretta dates back to 1526), is known in the arms industry for its innovative products. Many of its current items are clones of well-known foreign firearms; such as the NP-22 (a clone of the German SIG Sauer P226) and the NR-08 (a copy of another famous German weapon, the Heckler & Koch MP5). China’s exports have more than tripled since 2008, and it was the third biggest arms exporter in 2012 alone.
5. UK: $14,082 million
The UK is home to one of the world’s largest defense contractors: BAE Systems. The company, based in London, reported revenue of £18.18 billion ($30 billion) in 2013. Products created by BAE Systems include the trainer jet BAE Systems Hawk which is operated worldwide. Another big name with British roots is that of Rolls-Royce Holdings, a company which is traditionally associated with the famous luxury cars. The brand was recently sold to Volkswagen and now Rolls-Royce makes a large proportion of its £15.5 billion ($25 billion) revenue in selling turbojets and turbofans around the world, including for military use.
4. France: $21,940 million
France has seen a drop in sales in the last few years, with 2012’s value being less than half that of 2007. But the country is still a heavy-hitter in the global arms industry, thanks to the worldwide use of things such as Exocet missiles. Toulouse, in southwestern France, also happens to be the home of Airbus Group – one of the largest companies involved in the arms industry. Although the massive company is operated and owned by holding companies all over the European Union, its giant revenue of 56.48 billion Euros ($78.6 billion) is enough to go around. This does not include the astonishing product backlog valued at about $883 billion!
3. Germany: $24,152 million
This Western European commercial giant is renowned for the quality of its manufacturing goods, and that includes armaments. Familiar names such as Heckler & Koch, Mauser and Walther, are all German brands. The Leopard 2 tank is a popular purchase around the world and the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun (which is manufactured in several countries under license) is one of the world’s most popular firearms, being used by diverse groups including both the British and New Zealand versions of the SAS, the American Secret Service, the Japanese Special Assault Team and the Vatican City’s elite Swiss Guard.
2. Russia: $78,742 million
Putting the countries behind it on this list to shame, Russia is a global powerhouse when it comes to exporting arms. SIPRI’s estimates of Russia’s arms trade yearly value has risen since 2000, from $4,168 million to $8,003 million in 2012. The actual current value of Russia’s 2012 exports (remembering that SIPRI uses 1990s values) was $15.2 billion, thanks to the country’s exploration of new markets in Africa and South America. Russian battle tanks, such as the outdated T-55 and upgraded T-72 were sold all over the world, whilst the AK-47 is easily the most popular assault rifle in the world with anywhere between 70 and 100 million of the weapons being produced.
1. USA: $94,134 million
Russia made some gains on the USA in regard to arms export in 2012, but the US is still the world’s biggest arms exporter. Many of the largest companies involved in the arms industry are American: Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies Corporation and L-3 Communications. At the head of that list of companies is Lockheed Martin, which reported revenue of $47 billion in 2012. Lockheed Martin is responsible for the globally popular F-16 Fighting Falcon (formerly made by General Dynamics) and the C-130 Hercules Family operated by over 70 countries. Other American successes have been the M16 rifle which is used throughout the world, Smith & Wesson revolvers (such as the Smith & Wesson Model 29 using a .44 Magnum cartridge made famous in the Dirty Harry movies) and the fearsome Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.