The global trade in arms continued to grow over the last half decade, buoyed by an appetite for weapons in the Middle East and a near doubling of exports from China.
Figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a monitoring group, showed that even as the total trade in weapons grew by 14 percent between 2011 and 2015, the two largest exporters, Russia and the US, managed to capture even greater portions of the pie. American exports made up a full third of the global trade, up from 29 percent between 2006 and 2010. According to a congressional report, US arms sales increased by more than a third in 2014 alone, to $36.2 billion from 26.7 the year prior. SIPRI reported that over the last five years, the US sold "major" weapons to at least 96 countries — just a hair under half the total number of UN member states.
Russia meanwhile captured a quarter of all exports in SIPRI's most recent assessment, up from 22 percent in the previous reporting period.
In line with longstanding security alliances in the Gulf, the US sent nearly 10 percent of its total exports between 2011 and 2015 to Saudi Arabia, and a further 9.1 percent to the United Arab Emirates. Both countries are members of the coalition that has intervened militarily in Yemen for nearly a year, largely with American-supplied aircraft and munitions. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US sold them more than $90 billion in armaments and weapons systems since 2010.
Overall, imports to the Middle East rose by 61 percent; Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the second and fourth-biggest global importers between 2011 and 2015. Elsewhere in the region, Qatar's imports grew by 279 percent, while Egypt's increased by 37. Weapons purchases by Iraq, which is battling Islamic State militants, rose 83 percent more during the past five years than between 2006 and 2011, continuing a steady flow that began following the US-led invasion of the country in 2003.
Watch the VICE News documentary Rebranding the AK-47: A Weapon of Peace:
"Despite low oil prices, large deliveries of arms to the Middle East are scheduled to continue as part of contracts signed in the past five years," said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI, in a statement.
Russia sent nearly 40 percent of all its exports to India, followed by sales to China and Vietnam. The latter increased its spending on foreign arms by a whopping 699 percent, catapulting their rank among importers from 43rd to eighth over the past five years. Nearly all of the weapons delivered to Vietnam came from Russia, including 8 combat aircraft, 4 submarines and 4 "fast attack craft." SIPRI assessed that Vietnam's stepped-up purchasing reflected fears of Beijing's growing power in Asia and territorial claims in the South China Sea that overlap with its own.
While China still only accounts for 5.9 percent of global arms exports, its share is growing faster that practically any other state. Between 2006 and 2015, it's share of exports rose 88 percent. Most were destined for other Asian countries, including Pakistan. SIPRI noted that Beijing "is increasingly capable of producing its own advanced weapons and has become less dependent on arms imports," which fell 25 percent in the recent reporting period. But China, wrote researchers, "remains partly dependent on imports for some key weapons and components, including large transport aircraft and helicopters, and engines for aircraft, vehicles and ships."
For the first time, China's weapons exports exceeded those of France, long one of Europe's top arms sellers. From 7.1 percent of global exports between 2011 and 2015, France captured 5.6 percent in the last five years. Germany's share fell even further, from 11 percent to 4.7. The UK's share increased marginally, from 4.1 percent to 4.5 percent. Arms imports to Europe, meanwhile, fell by 41 percent.
Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford