Data | Europe picks up more arms even as global weapon imports drop

Ukraine was the world’s third-largest importer of arms in 2022

March 18, 2023 10:05 am | Updated 03:51 pm IST

Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian positions from a U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region Saturday, June 18, 2022.

Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian positions from a U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region Saturday, June 18, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

European countries increased imports of major weaponry by 47% between 2013-17 and 2018-2022 even as the global volume of international arms transfers fell by 5.1%. If only those European states in the U.S.-led NATO alliance are considered, the increase in arms imports was 65% in the same period.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has prompted European countries to rush to bolster their defences. “Even as arms transfers have declined globally, those to Europe have risen sharply due to the tensions between Russia and most other European states,” Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said in a statement. SIPRI defines major arms as aircraft, warships, tanks, artillery, missiles and various heavy defence systems.

Chart 1 shows arms imports of select European nations using SIPRI’s Trend Indicator Values (TIVs) expressed in millions. It shows the import data for five time periods: 1998-2002, 2003-2007, 2008-2012, 2013-2017 and 2018-2022.

Chart 1

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The SIPRI TIV is a measure of the volume of international transfers of major arms. The TIV is based on the known unit production costs of a core set of weapons and is intended to represent the transfer of military resources rather than the financial value of the transfer. This data is intended to provide a common unit to allow the measurement of trends in the flow of arms to particular countries and regions over time.

As seen in Chart 1, in many European countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, France, Belgium, Serbia, Belarus and Lithuania, the arms imports in 2018-2022 are the highest across all periods considered. In other nations such as the U.K., Poland, Romania, Germany and Sweden, arms imports in the latest period are at least higher than in the previous five-year period (2013-2017).

The chart also shows a sharp spike in Ukraine’s arms imports from the U.S. and Europe in the latest period. This makes it the world’s third-largest importer of arms in 2022. Notably, from 1991, when Ukraine became independent amid the fall of the Soviet Union, until the end of 2021, Ukraine imported fewer major arms.

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While Europe’s share in the global volume of arms transfers increased significantly, the share of West Asia, the Americas and Asia and Oceania decreased marginally in the last five years. Africa’s share decreased significantly in the period. Chart 2 shows the region-wise share of arms imports in the last two five-year periods.

Chart 2

SIPRI’s data also shows that U.S. arms exports increased by 14% between 2013–17 and 2018–22, and Washington accounted for 40% of global arms exports in 2018-22.

Meanwhile, Russia’s arms exports fell by 31% between the two periods, and its share of global arms exports decreased from 22% to 16%, while France’s share increased from 7.1% to 11%.

The export of arms has long been dominated by the U.S. and Russia with the two countries being the largest and second-largest arms exporters for the past three decades as shown in Chart 3. However, the gap between them has been widening significantly, while the gap between Russia and the third-largest arms supplier, France, has narrowed. The think-tank said it was likely that the invasion of Ukraine will further limit Russia’s arms exports due to Moscow’s need to prioritise supplying its own armed forces and the low demand from other states due to trade sanctions.

Chart 3

SIPRI, established in 1966, is an independent international institute dedicated to the research of conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)‘s latest report titled “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2022”

Also read | Ukraine: the pawn in the power game 

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