Arms Import Trends

The decline in the arms trade took place in both developed and developing groups of countries (redefined in this edition-see Note in Arms Transfers section and Figure 7). Arms imports of the developing group have declined continually and sharply since 1987, falling to $12.8 billion in 1994, or 80% below the 1984 all-time peak of $63 billion. This decline has exceeded that of the developed group, which fell 61 % from its 1987 all-time peak of $23.8 billion to $9.3 billion in 1994, after a slight rise in 1993.

The differing patterns of decline of the two groups have resulted in a marked shift in their market shares. The developing group accounted for some 70-80% of the world market from the late 1970s to the peak year 1987 but has dropped to around 55% of the market in recent years, while the developed group rose accordingly, from 24% in 1984 to 42% in 1994 (Table 4).

Overview of Regions

The declining trends in arms imports occurred in all major regions, both over the entire decade and in the latter half, but the rates of decline differed greatly (Table 4 and Figure 8). In five of the regions-Middle East, East Asia, Western Europe, North America, and Oceania-the rates of decline have been relatively moderate, while in the remaining six regions the declines have been rapid to very rapid. As a result, the first three-Middle East, East Asia, and Western Europe-have been the dominant importing regions and have increased their share of the much diminished world market from 62% in 1984 to 75% in 1994 (Figure 9, page 12). With North America (essentially the United States), which has become the fourth largest importing region, these four regions accounted for over 80% of the market in 1994. Of the others, Eastern Europe dropped from fourth with 8.5% in 1984 to tenth with 1% in 1994 and Subsaharan Africa remained the fifth largest market, though its share dropped from 8% to 4%.

Since year-to-year fluctuations in the arms trade can be large, the market shares over the cumulative 1992-1994 period are also informative; in this case a similar picture emerges (in millions of current dollars-based on Main Table III):

         Middle East                  $34,055             43%

         Western Europe                13,350             17

         East Asia                     12,210             16

         North America                  5,080              6

         South Asia                     2,520              3

         Africa, All                    2,305              3

         Eastern Europe                 1,535              2

         All Others                     7,560             10

         World                         78,615            100

Table 4
World Arms Imports: Shares and Growth

(In percent)
World Share
Real Growth Rate*
84- 94
2nd Half

Middle East44.040.9-11.8-15.5
East Asia9.518.0-8.0-12.5
Western Europe8.815.3-5.6-19.6
North America3.26.1-6.4-13.7
Subsaharan Africa7.73.8-24.4-17.7
South Asia4.62.4-19.0-47.6
South America3.81.5-17.9-21.4
North Africa5.21.4-28.9-34.2
Eastern Europe8.51.3-34.2-26.9
Central America & Car.3.4.6-30.1-49.2
Central Asia & Cauc.---.5------
Europe, all17.3 16.5-12.6 -21.5
Africa, all13.0 5.3-25.7 -23.9
Organization / Reference Group
OECD15.0 25.9-6.5 -18.1
OPEC40.3 28.6-13.3 -20.1
NATO, all11.1 20.4-5.6 -17.6
Warsaw Pact (fmr)8.3 1.1-34.4 -29.2
NATO Europe7.5 14.4-4.8 -18.8
Latin America7.2 2.5-23.4 -35.0
CIS--- .5--- ---

* Average annual rate, calculated as a compound rate curve fitted to all points (see Statistical Notes for details).

The Middle East

Although the Middle East remains by far the largest regional market at 41% of the world, its arms imports fell in 1994 for the fourth consecutive year, to slightly over $9 billion. This total is less than one quarter of that recorded in 1984, the region's peak year in arms purchases, and a drop of 26% from 1993. The region averaged a 12% annual decline since 1984 and 15% since 1990.

Arms purchase agreements by Middle East countries also fell in 1994, to $16 billion, after rising to a decade high $22 billion in 1993. These changes are mainly attributable to the dramatic spike in US agreements with the Middle East in 1993. France also brought large shifts, as its agreements with the Middle East rose from $1 million in 1992 to $3.6 billion in 1993 and $10.2 billion in 1994. Import agreements with France in 1994 accounted for 64% of the total.

Over the decade all Middle East countries experienced declining trends in arms imports except for Bahrain, Cyprus, and the United Arab Emirates. All but Egypt Israel, Lebanon, and Oman declined during the latter half. During this latest period, trends among Middle East countries varied widely. Egypt was the sole country to record consecutive increases in imports during the latter years of the decade, while Syria and the United Arab Emirates recorded consecutive declines. Jordan and Lebanon's imports fell early in the decade then rose during the latter part of this period. Sporadic rises and falls among the remaining countries make trends difficult to discern.

Figure 7. World Arms Imports, 1984-1994

World Arms Imports, 1984-1994 (14k)

Figure 8. Arms Imports by Region, 1984-1994

Arms Imports by Region, 1984-1994 (40k)

Figure 9. Regional Shares of the World Arms Import Market, 1984-1994

Regional Shares of the World Arms Market, 1984-1994 (27k)

The largest arms importers in the Middle East during 1992-1994 were the following (in millions of current dollars; Main Table III):

         Saudi Arabia          $20,465    60%

         Egypt                   4,060    12

         Israel                  2,970     9

         Kuwait                  2,040     6

         Iran                    1,765     5

         Others (IO)             2,755     8
These five leading countries together accounted for 92% of the over $34 billion worth of weapons and military equipment imported into the region during this period.

Saudi Arabia continues to dominate the Middle East region as well as the world in terms of arms imports. In 1994 it imported some $5 billion worth, roughly $4 billion more than Egypt, the next largest importer, and 57% of the regional total (Figure 10). However, this total marks a second consecutive drop in purchases for the Saudis and amounts to 47% less than the 1984 peak year's $10 billion. Other leading arms purchasers during this period were Israel ($3 billion, 9% of the market), Kuwait ($2 billion, 6%), and Iran (slightly under $2 billion, 5%). The remaining ten countries combined accounted for 8% of the regional total.

In 1994 Egypt surpassed the United States as the world's second leading arms importer (Figure 11, page 14). As noted above, Egypt is the only Middle East country to have increased its arms purchases yearly since 1990. Its $1.5 billion in imports in 1994 was roughly 70% higher than its 1990 total. Israeli arms purchases totaled $1 billion in 1994, making it the fourth largest importer in the region and fourth in the world (tied with South Korea). However, this total is an 11% drop from the previous year, following modest increases in both 1992 and 1993. Other leading importers in the region are Iran, ranked 12th in world arms imports in 1994, and Kuwait, ranked 19th.

The United States, the number one supplier, provided over $17 billion in weaponry to the region during 1992-1994, more than half of the total (Main Table III). The United States' largest trade partners in the region were Saudi Arabia ($8.6 billion), Egypt ($3.8 billion), Israel ($2.6 billion), and Kuwait ($1.8 billion). The United Kingdom was the second largest supplier during this period, exporting some $10 billion in arms into the region and accounting for roughly 28% of the region's total. The United Kingdom provided Saudi Arabia with 46% of its military purchases during 1992-1994, which accounted for almost all of the United Kingdom's arms exports into the region. Together, these two supplied the Middle East with 80% of all arms purchased in the period.

Figure 10. Middle East Arms Import Market, 1994

Middle East Arms Import Market, 1994 (13k)

Of the remaining suppliers, Russia provided the Middle East with 5% of total imports in 1992-1994, Canada, China, and France each provided roughly 3%, and Germany, 1%. The largest recipients from these suppliers were Iran ($1 billion from Russia and $525 million from China), Saudi Arabia ($900 million from Canada and $525 million from France), Israel ($310 million from Germany), and Syria ($300 million from Russia).

Trends within Europe

Western Europe, with imports totaling over $13 billion, was the second largest arms importing region in 1992-1994 (although East Asia became the second largest importing region in 1994). Western European imports made up 15% of the world's and 92% of Europe's as a whole, compared to 9% and 51% respectively in 1984. Western predominance over the Eastern half began in the late 1980's when large consecutive reductions in Eastern European purchases were coupled with increases in Western Europe's. Thus, the two components imported nearly equally over 1984-1987, but Western Europe's share of the European total became 60% in 1987, 75% in 1989-1990, 99% in 1992, and 92% in 1994. Hungary was Eastern Europe's only major arms recipient during the 1992-1994 period, with 61% of the total, a result of its arms-for-debt agreement with Russia.

Western European imports have also fallen considerably over the decade, averaging an annual decline of 6% since 1984 and 20% since 1990. The $3.4 billion in 1994 purchases was 69% less than the almost $11 billion in 1989, the region's peak year. NATO member countries were responsible for 94% of the region's imports in 1994. Of these, Turkey was the sixth largest arms buyer in the world in 1994 with $950 million and, with slightly over $3 billion in purchases in 1992-1994, accounted for 23% of the region's total. Germany and Greece both recorded $1.8 billion in imports during this same period, followed by Spain with slightly over $1 billion. These four received almost 60% of all arms imported into the region during the three-year period. Western Europe's three mid-level spenders-Finland ($815 million), Netherlands ($700 million), and the United Kingdom ($695 million)-accounted for an additional 17%.

Also among the world's top importers in 1994 were Spain ($525 million) ranking tenth, Portugal ($320 million), 15th, Greece ($270 million), 16th, and Germany ($240 million), 20th.

The United States was the chief exporter of arms to Western Europe during 1992-1994, supplying over $8 billion worth or 61% of the total. Canada was the only other significant supplier outside of Western Europe itself, providing $640 million or 5% of the total, with almost all going to Germany. Arms trade within the region amounted to 30% of the total, due mainly to German and French sales of $1.4 and $1.2 billion, respectively.

East Asia

East Asia was the third largest regional market in 1992-1994, with over $12 billion in imports, more than 15% of the world total. In 1994 East Asia surpassed Western Europe to take second place among importing regions, as already noted. The region's arms imports dropped steadily since peaking in 1987 at almost $10 billion, to $4 billion in 1993, then leveled off with a slight increase in 1994. Arms purchases fell at an annual rate of 8% over the decade and 12% during the half-decade. Although showing a declining trend, arms imports here were more level across the decade than in other regions. Only Western Europe (5.6%) and North America (6.4%) had lower rates of decline during the decade.

East Asia's four key importers during 1992-1994-South Korea ($3 billion), China-Taiwan ($2.4 billion), Japan ($2 billion), and China-Mainland ($1.7 billion)-accounted for 74% of the region's total arms purchases. China's inclusion in this group is mainly a result of its large purchases of over $1.2 billion in 1992;since then China's imports have declined dramatically. In 1994 alone, South Korea ranked fifth in the world (tied with Israel), with $1 billion, China-Taiwan ranked seventh, with $775 million, and Japan ranked eighth, with $650 million. North Korea, which imported large totals prior to the Soviet breakup, now imports minimal amounts of weapons.

Figure 11. Leading Arms Importers, 1994

Leading Arms Importers, 1994 (31k)

The United States was the major supplier to East Asia during 1992-1994, providing 54% of all arms imported into the region. Nearly all of Taiwan's and Japan's and 44% of South Korea's purchases during this period were provided by the United States. Russia and Germany were the next largest suppliers, providing roughly 15% and 11% of the total. Nearly all Russian arms sold to the region were purchased by China, while Germany provided South Korea half of its total.

South Asia

South Asia's arms import market peaked at almost $9 billion in 1989, but it has recorded large drops since, falling by 94% to $540 million in 1994. Over the decade arms imports fell annually by 19% and 48% annually since 1990. India and Afghanistan have historically been the region's largest arms importers, each purchasing massive amounts of weaponry during the early part of the decade. Both countries cut their arms purchases dramatically in the latter years of the decade, with Afghanistan recording almost zero imports, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Pakistan now shares with India the role of major arms importer in the region, although both imported relatively small amounts of weapons in 1994, $260 and $140 million worth, respectively. In terms of the world's leading arms importers, Pakistan ranked 18th and India, 28th. Over the 1992-1994 period both India and Pakistan recorded purchases of over $1 billion, and together they made up 91 % of the region's total.

Russia and China are the primary suppliers of arms to South Asia, providing 78% of the region's total imports, with nearly all going to the two leading recipients.


African arms imports as a whole fell steadily throughout the decade, by roughly 25% annually, to a low of $0.6 billion in 1993, then rose in 1994 to $1.2 billion. This reversal in 1994 was due mainly to a large increase in Angola's arms imports, although North African imports also rose significantly. In 1994 Africa accounted for just over 5% of the world arms imports, compared to a 13% share in 1984.

Subsaharan Africa accounted for roughly three quarters of all imports into the continent during 1992-1994. Angola, ranked ninth in the world in 1994, accounted for half of these arms purchases, with $865 million. Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe accounted for another 26%. Morocco imported roughly half of North Africa's $600 million in military weapons during 1992-1994.

The sources of arms supplied to Africa are more diverse than for other regions of the world. Overall, Russia was the main supplier during 1992-1994, providing 26% of the total. The remaining shares were spread among the United States (17%), France (11%), China (8%), and the United Kingdom (6%). Other Western Europe and Middle East nations provided 11% and 7%, respectively.

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