SIPRI: Saudi Arabia is World's Largest Arms Importer

file photo of Saudi Arabian land forces
file photo of Saudi Arabian land forces

Published Mar 8, 2020 6:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

International transfers of major arms during the five-year period 2015–19 increased by 5.5 percent compared with 2010–14, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The largest exporters of arms during the past five years were the U.S., Russia, France, Germany and China, and Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest importer.

Between 2010–14 and 2015–19, exports of major arms from the U.S. grew by 23 percent, raising its share of total global arms exports to 36 percent. Major arms transferred from the U.S. went to 96 countries, half went to the Middle East, and half of that went to Saudi Arabia.

In 2015–19 total U.S. arms exports were 76 percent higher than those of the second-largest arms exporter in the world, Russia. Major arms exports by Russia decreased by 18 percent between 2010–14 and 2015–19. “Russia has lost traction in India—the main long-term recipient of Russian major arms—which has led to a sharp reduction in arms exports,” says Alexandra Kuimova, SIPRI Researcher. “This decrease was not offset by the increase in Russian arms exports to Egypt and Iraq in 2015–19.”

French arms exports reached their highest level for any five-year period since 1990 and accounted for 7.9 percent of total global arms exports in 2015–19, a 72 percent increase on 2010–14. The French arms industry has benefited from the demand for arms in Egypt, Qatar and India.
Arms flows to countries in conflict

Arms imports by countries in the Middle East increased by 61 percent between 2010–14 and 2015–19 and accounted for 35 percent of total global arms imports over the past five years. Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest arms importer in 2015–19. Its imports of major arms increased by 130 percent compared with the previous five-year period, and it accounted for 12 percent of global arms imports in 2015–19. 

Despite concerns in the U.S. and the U.K. about Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen, both the nations continued to export arms to Saudi Arabia in 2015–19 - 73percent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports came from the U.S. and 13 percent from the U.K.

India was the second-largest arms importer in the world over the past five years, with its neighbor Pakistan ranking 11th. “As in previous years, in 2019 India and Pakistan, which are nuclear-armed states, attacked each other using an array of imported major arms,” says Siemon T. Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI. “Many of the world’s largest arms exporters have supplied these two states for decades, often exporting arms to both sides.”

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been militarily involved in Libya as well as Yemen over the past five years and was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world in 2015–19. Two-thirds of its arms imports came from the U.S. during this period. In 2019, when foreign military involvement in Libya was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, the UAE had major arms import deals ongoing with Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S.

In 2015–19 there were again armed clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both countries are building up their military capability through imports, including missiles capable of attacking targets inside each other’s territory. Russia accounted for almost all of Armenia’s arms imports over the past five years. 60 percent of Azerbaijan’s arms imports came from Israel and 31 percent from Russia.

In 2015–19 Turkish arms imports were 48 percent lower than in the previous five-year period, even though its military was fighting Kurdish rebels and was involved in the conflicts in Libya and Syria. This decrease in imports can be explained by delays in deliveries of some major arms, the cancellation of a large deal with the U.S. for combat aircraft, and developments in the capability of the Turkish arms industry.
Other notable developments

•     Germany’s arms exports were 17 percent higher in 2015–19 than in 2010–14.
•     China was the fifth-largest arms exporter in 2015–19 and significantly increased the number of recipients of its major arms: from 40 in 2010–14 to 53 in 2015–19.
•     South Korea’s arms exports rose by 143 percent between 2010–14 and 2015–19, and it entered the list of the top 10 largest exporters for the first time.
•     Israeli arms exports increased by 77 percent between 2010–14 and 2015–19 to their highest-ever level.
•     Egypt’s arms imports tripled between 2010–14 and 2015–19, making it the world’s third-largest arms importer.
•     Brazil’s arms imports in 2015–19 were the highest in South America, accounting for 31 percent of the subregion’s arms imports, despite a 37 percent decrease compared with 2010–14.
•     South Africa, the largest arms importer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2005–2009, imported almost no major arms in 2015–19.