Features of the Global Arms Trade

-Rajiv Nayan, Research Officer, IDSA


In order to defeat or defend against an adversary, a country requires arms. The ideal condition is one in which the country produces the required weapons indigenously. When it does not find itself capable of producing the required weapons, the country looks toward another country or other countries. The movement of weapons or related materials from one country to another by sale, loan or gift is defined as arms transfer. Agreements can be between governments, private parties, or both.1 Every so often, transfer of arms has proved detrimental for the structure, capability and readiness of the armed forces of the concerned country. It is an old ongoing fact. Keith Krause writes that "arms transfers have been used at least since the Pelponnesian wars."2 The Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its latest report for Congress on Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1988-1995, informs that arms worth US $356,413 million at constant 1995 US dollars have been transferred.3 In 1995, the amount was US $28,831 million at the same rate.4 However, writers on the subject have failed to arrive at a consensus on the issue--whether arms transfer is purely a military or an economic phenomenon, or basically a political activity. There are further differences in the nature of arms transfers among different sets of countries in various parts of the world. The debate does not end even if some try to combine different aspects. Still, on numerous occasions, arms transfers tend to converge at certain points. In the strategic circles it is widely believed that the pattern of arms transfers has taken a new shape in the post-Cold War era. But this belief is not without dissent. It is argued that there is no dramatic shift in the phenomenon. This paper attempts to highlight the common features of arms transfers at the global level in the 1990s in a fashion that automatically facilitates a comparison between the patterns of arms transfers of the Cold War period and the post-Cold War period.



The international arms market has witnessed transactions of weapons of almost all categories, although strict prohibition on the business of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) has continued throughout this period. Of course, missiles of certain specified categories perceived to be potential WMD carriers as well as numerous dual-use technologies are also in the regulation lists.

Numerically speaking, small and minor weapons are definitely in the topmost category. However, among the major weapons in developing countries which constitute the chunk of arms trade, tanks and surface-to-air missiles have been found to be transferred in the greatest number by the CRS report. The report5 further reveals that the number of transferred artillery, armoured personnel carriers and armoured cars, supersonic and subsonic combat aircraft is only marginally behind.

Surface-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles and guided missile boats of unrestricted categories were also transferred. Mistral, Harpoon, Stinger, Starstreak, Hellfire, AIM-19 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, Starburst, AA-10, AA-12 and so forth appear to be the most popular battlefield missiles among the buyers. There are many other important weapon systems such as the major and minor combatants, submarines, non-supersonic or subsonic combat aircraft, helicopters and so on, which have been transacted in the international arms market.

In the 1990s, many advanced versions of aircraft have been preferred by the buyer countries. The most popular aircraft entering the arsenal of recipient countries are the MiG-29, SU-27, advanced modified versions of F-16, F-22, Mirage 2000-5 and Jas 39 Gripen. These are the most advanced aircraft available in the market, though recently, India has purchased Sukhoi-30 which was never sold to any country.6 No doubt, the old, less sophisticated models are available, but buyer countries do not generally prefer such weapons. For example, when the US refused to transfer F-16s to Pakistan but agreed to sell a part of the F-18 fleet to Indonesia,7 the latter was unwilling to agree apparently because better models were available in the market. Going by the CRS report, one can notice that the supersonic aircraft has been increasing its share in the market in comparison to other types of aircraft. At the same time, the report highlights that except in the Middle East, there has been an overall decline in terms of number of aircraft transacted in contrast to the earlier period. Notwithstanding the CRS projection, many new countries like Peru are purchasing advanced aircraft like the MiG-29.8 All the aircraft mentioned above offer a package of missiles with the aircraft. Some of the missiles are said to be simultaneously inducted in the seller countries. This phenomenon was not evidenced before the 1990s.9

There is an annual market of $40 billion for ships and weapons in the world excluding the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the People's Republic of China (PRC) as per the estimate of the French naval industry trade association known as the Groupment Industriel des Constructions et Armaments Navals (GICAN).10 The purchase by the US comes to 52 per cent, while the European countries' purchase comes to around 30 per cent of which one-third goes to France. The association speculates that there will be transactions of 480 new warships. It augurs a shift in the amphibious market because of the change of the mission of naval forces. Smaller patrol boats, more conducive to operations on the high seas, are predicted to replace major surface combatants more useful for coastal operations. On the other hand, the association states that after 2001, the market of patrol boat-size ships will begin to decline and by 2005 it will almost be halved from 151 to 80. It will increasingly be replaced by one of corvettes and frigates which are speculated to reach a number of 209 ships during this period.

China, whose transactions are not included in the calculation by the French association, has also been on a buying spree. In the year 1995 itself, it received two diesel-powered Kilo class submarines worth about $250 million each from Russia.11 Moreover, it is reported that China has given an order for six submarines to Russia and is further trying to procure 12 submarines from the same country.12

The procurement and export agency of the Ministry of Defence of France estimated that there were around 6,000 in-service attack and armed helicopters worldwide in 1995. Fifty-eight per cent of the helicopters are distributed amongst six countries, including the US, Russia, France, Germany, the UK and Italy.13 In helicopters, the Italian A-129 International, CSH-2 Rooivalk, AH-64 Apache, Eurocopter Tiger (redesigned as UH-2), KA-50, AH-1W Super Cobra, Eurocopter Cougar, etc. have been found in circulation among the important buyers. The future competition is also expected among these helicopters. If the official estimates given by different companies are to be believed, there will be foreign sales of 150 Apache Longbows to Asia within ten years,14 Super Cobra, in substantial numbers to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Turkey and Kuwait,15 and 600 V-22, that take off and land like helicopters, and fly like planes,16 within 20 years of its production, and so on. Factors like emphasis on air mobility, the decision to purchase rather than modernise helicopters by certain European countries, the conception of developing countries that helicopters are the testing ground for high-tech work, etc. are regarded as conducive to the expected boom in the helicopter market.

The SA-88/88A rifle, AK-47 rifle, M-16 rifle, M-14 rifle, FN Fal rifle, H&K G3 rifle, AR-15 rifle, Galil assault rifle, Uzi sub-machine gun, ultimax machine gun, L2m MK4 sub-machine gun, several types of pistols, grenades launchers, hand grenades, anti-personnel mines and other small arms are in circulation.17

With the increasing role of the civil sector in the technology base of the developed countries, the expectation of corresponding rise in the sale of items like sensors, electronics, computer and soft hardware is proving true." Concept and technology demonstrations" are surmised to be the real phenomenon in place of assembled or semi-assembled goods. The modernisation work of the old weapons in almost all major categories is being undertaken in the light of defence cuts and emphasis on leaner force structures.


A study conducted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)18 identifies the US, USSR/Russia, France, UK, Germany, China, Czechoslovakia, as the leading arms suppliers, although the ranking of a few countries has varied over this period. It also reveals a decline in the arms market share of Russia and Czech. The US has increased its share, while the position of the European countries remains the same. The details provided by World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1995, by the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) for the period 1990-9419 also enlist the same countries as the top six suppliers. This study, too, indicates the declining status of divided Czechoslovakia. Israel is shown to have overtaken the former Warsaw Pact country. A similar conclusion has been drawn by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).20 It points out that the same six countries divide upto 90 per cent of arms trade among themselves. It notes that the dominant supplier, the US, has been selling arms worth more than $15 billion each year from 1992 to 1995. Although the report demonstrates a decline in the share of Russia from more than 30 per cent to 6 per cent, it forecasts recovery for the country.

The CRS in its report, has also reached the same conclusion,21 albeit this study focusses on deliveries to developing countries. It informs that the deliveries of conventional arms to developing nations represented 71.4 per cent of the value of all worldwide arms deliveries. Of this, the main suppliers have around 90 per cent share. In recent years, the US has been the top supplier of the worldwide arms transfers followed by the Soviet Union/Russia; as far as transfers of arms to the developing countries are concerned, the US is followed by France, whereas Russia is ranked third and the UK fourth, according to the report.

The CRS report further notes, "Of the top eleven arms suppliers to developing nations from 1988-95, only two, France and Italy, registered substantial increases in the value of arms transfer agreements with developing nations from the period 1988-1991 to the period 1992-1995. France increased 145.9 per cent, from $7.4 billion to $18.2 billion. Italy registered an increase of 100 per cent, from $900 million to $1.8 billion.

"Most of the top eleven arms suppliers to developing nations registered significant decreases in the value of their arms transfer agreements from the 1988-1991 period to the 1992-1995 period. Of the largest arms suppliers, the United Kingdom registered the largest percentage decline from 1988-1991 to 1992-1995 at 77.9 per cent, while Russia fell 69.8 per cent. China declined 69.7 per cent. Of the lesser suppliers, North Korea registered a 72.2 per cent decline between these two time periods."22

Since the Cold War, time and again, it has been appearing that a new set of actors is going to pose a challenge to the traditional major suppliers. In recent years, countries such as Brazil, Egypt and the like looked to be making a major move in the arms market. But as one commentator writes, these countries, not very significant in the international arms bazaar, were and are expected to be dependent on war for their survival in the market.23 It is rightly stated that they are unable to match the major powers financially and technologically as most of the equipment manufactured is heavily dependent on import.

The IISS study24 mentions several West European countries, Canada, Israel, the Czech Republic, and some of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union as the "other suppliers." According to it, these states, at present, do not occupy a very substantial share in the market but are expected to augment their strength and concomitantly, the share in international arms transactions. An important "new supplier," Brazil, has over the years shown a steady decline as a seller in the international arms bazaar. In small arms, apart from the six top suppliers of major weapon systems, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Israel, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Yugoslavia are also key suppliers25


The studies conducted by SIPRI, ACDA and CRS all point towards Saudi Arabia as the largest arms recipient in the 1990s. All studies pinpoint the change of the direction of arms flow. Asian countries are found to be increasingly replacing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries. This may be possible because of the growing emphasis by the European countries on co-production for various objectives. However, there are a few advanced Western countries in the list of top ten recipients obtained from the studies conducted by both SIPRI and CRS. Turkey appears to be the third largest recipient in the 1990s, according to data obtained by both studies. The US is ranked second in the 1990s as per the study of ACDA. Israel, Egypt, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Greece, China, and India are other countries that make the list of top ten arms recipients in the 1990s by SIPRI estimates, though many anomalies in calculation methodology have been highlighted26 in the assessment of Indian procurement. By ACDA estimates for the 1990s, Iran, Egypt, South Korea, Japan, Israel, Taiwan, etc. are other countries in the list of top ten arms recipients.

According to the CRS study, too, Saudi Arabia is placed as the largest arms recipient. The study notes that Saudi Arabia has received nearly 30 per cent of the total arms transferred to developing countries since 1988. It lays down that "six of the ten leading developing nations arms recipients during the 1988-95 period registered declines in the value of their arms transfer agreements from the 1988-91 period to the 1992-95 period. Decreases by Cuba and Afghanistan reflect the diminished financial support for these countries by Russia in the post-Cold War era."27

In 1995, the position of Saudi Arabia has come down to second, while China led the list of recipients for the year by the CRS record. According to the report, the same year has witnessed the top ten nations receive 77.3 per cent of all arms deliveries to developing nations, six of which are from the Asian region.28

Of the five top arms recipients, according to SIPRI, four have got a stake and involvement in Asian politics. Three of them are part of Asia. Turkey and Egypt are placed under the category Middle East--that has many West Asian countries also under it. Only Greece has not got any direct involvement in Asian affairs. Moreover, amongst the next batch of ten, eight countries are from Asia.

Supplier-Client Relationship

If during the Cold War the predominant basis of the relationship between a supplier and a recipient was ideology, afterwards commerce has been considered the chief moving force. In the former condition, the relationship was more or less static, although there was nothing like a schematic division. An element of insularity was found. It is true that in many cases adherence to the ideology of that particular bloc was not a condition for recipient countries but definitely, it was difficult to surpass the criterion of bloc proximity. If a client wanted to change its old supplier, it had to find an alternative within the bloc itself. Clients of one bloc seldom went to another for shopping. However, the vulnerability of reliance on a singular supplier was perceived. The most glaring example was that of Argentina. The UK was its main arms supplier until the Falklands war. Then onwards, even Argentina began to rely on mixed armoury, nevertheless mainly from European countries and the US.29

This trend assumed a new dimension after the end of the Cold War. As the big wall crumbled, the possibility of the free flow of transactions of arms was widely perceived. A movement towards that direction was made, too. One of the major phenomena of the post-Cold War arms transactions has been the penetration of the Soviet weapons in the Western market. Many Western clients like Malaysia, South Korea, Pakistan, Israel not only expressed their willingness for such weapons but also purchased them from the ex-Soviet countries. Of these, Russia has been the leader. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the socialist bloc also ushered in a new era of defence cooperation between old friends turned foes--China and Russia. China has procured many sophisticated weapons and technologies from Russia. Similarly, many old Soviet clients have started cost and benefit analysis of the Western weapon systems. Yet, there is no dramatic shift in the supplier-recipient relationship. The major arms suppliers are still the old countries. For instance, in East Asia, the US' share of their arms transfers is 50 per cent while even European countries have not been able to increase their market share of 8 per cent.30 In the same way, Syria, Libya, etc. have remained clients of the main successor of the Soviet Union, namely, Russia. The situation is not very different in South Asia.

Nature of Market

A section of writers on arms trade perceives that the post-Cold War arms trade operates in a buyer's market.31 In some way, it is seen to resemble the one before World War II when laissez faire was the guiding principle most of the time in the field. One commentator traces the roots of such a market to the 1970s.32 Ian Anthony states, "More and more customers are learning how to conduct their arms procurement in an efficient and effective manner."33 He further adds, "This development may be strengthened by a growing tendency toward closer scrutiny and accountability in national decision-making associated with the focus on good government."34

Of course, there is an increasing use of a term like deal in place of sale. The concept of deal indicates a package. Some major weapon systems like fighter aircraft are accompanied with auxiliary weapon systems and many other forms of small concessions. Offset is a case in point, although this arrangement has not been very successful. Moreover, the instance of frontline technology,35 or better, improved technology is also cited to prove the existence of the buyer's market. Any frontline technology has many more lines behind it and the projection of simultaneous induction of such a technology in buyer as well as in seller countries is highly erroneous and in many ways misleading. A seller country adopts all possible means to retain its hold over the edge.

Undoubtedly, the prevailing situation in the domestic arms industry of the major arms supplier countries is forcing it to adopt commercial ethics which for all practical purposes demand some concessions to stay in the present competitive environment. As discussed, there are six or seven leading arms suppliers which control 70 to 80 per cent of arms transactions of the world; the acceptance of or even conceptualising the very concept of a buyer's market in the oligopolistic situation, contravenes the very fundamental laws of economics.

More importantly, the idea also calls for caution. It promotes a false feeling of economising of defence in a country which, because of its better defence technology base and industrial infrastructure, has undertaken several indigenous weapons development projects. If this feeling becomes widespread in the light of defence versus disarmament debate, it contains all the dangers of devastating indigenous programmes which in the long run have always proved helpful for the overall technology base of the country concerned.

Mode of Exchange

Exchange is basic to any trade. International arms trade cannot be an exception. To a great extent, the mode of exchange provides an invaluable insight to determine the nature of the international arms market of a particular period. It indicates the existence and significance of various market and non-market forces in operation. During the Cold War, both blocs transferred arms to their allies in the form of aid or on concessional loans. Barter was a noteworthy feature of the concessional loan trade.36

With the increasing commercialisation and competitiveness combined with urgent requirements of certain commodities by supplier countries, barter as a form of transaction has surely crossed the old bloc restrictions. Apart from Russia, some Western countries like the US are also practising it. In the past few years, consumer items like butter, edible oil, etc. have been bartered for Russian weapons. Russia has supplied weapons to repay its loans,37 mainly to Eastern European countries which were earlier members of the Warsaw Pact. Important among them are Hungary and Slovakia. Western countries are found to be selling for the procurement of commercial items like oil, gold mining, and so on. For example, the $835 million deal between Qater and the UK signifies not just the diversification of suppliers in the West Asian region but also an arms-for-oil deal.38 An American firm has to get mining rights of gold and copper from the Philippines government for the supply of 18 modified F-5 fighters.39

Motives of the Suppliers

Suppliers have been selling their arms for multiple reasons. Nevertheless, in certain periods of time, there happens to be one major reason accompanied with various auxiliary reasons. Since World War II, commerce increasingly became the prime mover of arms trade in the world, although during the Cold War, ideology was one important modifier. Business profits, employment, balance of payments, amortisation of research and development costs, and so forth, are considered to be the multiple aspects behind the economic motive. As discussed, the end of the Cold War appears to have established commerce as the predominant motive of arms transactions. A leading writer on arms trade disagrees with the commerce-centric notion of the international arms transactions. He writes, "Although lucrative for companies and corporations producing weapons, arms exports do not bring high economic benefits to most exporting economies (one exception here is France). Governments consider direct economic returns of marginal importance relative to the contribution arms exports make to foreign policy, though some foreign policy benefits are of economic importance."40

For a leading supplier country like the US, the supply of conventional weapons is regarded as a "legitimate instrument of US foreign policy."41 Through it, the US is supposed "to help allies, deter aggression, promote regional security, and increase interoperability of US forces and allied forces,"42 as well as prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, promote peaceful conflict resolution and arms control, human rights, democratisation and balance of power.43

Sometimes, arms are sold for the reason as described by Paul Kaminski, a US Under Secretary for Acquisition and Technology. In an interview in 1996, he stated that if the motivation of defence companies for selling their products overseas is to improve the interoperability of American forces, or as a result of foreign participation to improve the equipment Americans are getting, then the sale is justified.44

The US also supplies to a country like China for its comprehensive engagement foreign policy. Advanced technology is supplied to China so that it does not feel isolated and starts exporting sensitive technology to countries mentioned in the US target list.45 Arms exports are also seen in terms of an outgrowth of the arms production sector46 primarily for European countries. At present, it is believed that European arms industries are facing the problem of large overcapacities and due to this reason they go in for export of arms.

"Filling the power vacuum" is also put forward as an explanation for supplying arms. According to Alexander Kotelkin, Director-General, Rosvooruzheniye, in South Asia, Pakistan is facing a situation of arms vacuum which is to be filled somehow; if Russia fills this vacuum, it can positively facilitate in resolving the India-Pakistan conflict situation. Because of the critical response from a large section of the Russian workforce, the Russian government is believed to be under strong political, economic and financial pressure to sell weapons even to the point of ignoring, in some instances, what could be considered vital foreign policy and security-related considerations.47

Andrey Kokoshin, Russia's first Deputy Defence Minister has predicted a new type of threat. He has commented that Russia is facing the danger of slumping into the "global backwoods scientifically and technologically"48 as the vast potential of Russia is not realised. The most favoured suggestion to come out of this situation has been "the continued strengthening of Russia's position in the world's weapons market."49 This is expected to be accomplished through increasing the high-tech and science intensive components.50 According to Evgenii Yarin, Russia's Minister of Economics in 1995, for its survival Russia will have to assess its strengths and weaknesses and such an assessment will underline that Russians are "more efficient and skillfull in manufacturing weapons than cars."51 Thus, for Russia, an urge to globalise will mean cooperating and collaborating with other countries in the field of defence production and possibly sale, consequently.

Rationales of Recipients

Among the variegated motives a nation has for the procurement of weapons, security is always cited as the real factor. Security is interpreted in both ways--threats from other states as well as threats to the survival of the regime in power. A writer on the subject has tried to summarise by stating: "A regime could use arms to ensure its territorial defence, to compete in local arms race, to aid in national development, to quell internal rebellion, to satisfy avaricious generals and admirals, to attack a neighbour, to become a regional great power."52 Other works on the subject also point out a few non-security motives such as prestige, influence, hegemony, aggressive intentions and others. Most of the literature perceives these motives to be universal. Nonetheless, exceptions exist.

There is no denying that multiple motives do not operate in every case; however, in many cases, if not in a majority, definitely, more than one factor is in operation. The Western literature never regards the motives of Western countries as aggressive. In the 1990s, the logic of arms procurement by the recipient countries does not appear drastically different from the observation made in the literature of the previous period even though the 1990s witnessed a changed strategic environment and new circumstances for acquisition.

For instance, the end of apartheid is forcing South Africa to plan its weapon acquisition on the basis of a report on defence posture, functions and force designs. Jorge Burgos, the Ministry of Defence Under Secretary of War of Chile states that the main goal of the purchase of arms for the country is to "maintain the regional balance and retain deterrence."53 Thus, not only the major actors in international politics but also the smaller ones are paying attention to the dynamics of politics, especially at the regional level. Moreover, in some cases, the existing pressure and balance of power make a buyer purchase weapons in some other way. For example, in West Asia, by and large, Arab countries purchase weapons to keep the US happy, because an active American involvement in the region is, for all practical purposes, warding off all the dangers. However, the movement towards the diversification of arms sources by the American clients creates an impression of the adopting of an independent and autonomous line by these countries in security matters as they are apparently going by quality, not the politics of weapons.54 Undoubtedly, autonomy and independence in security matters will be a distant possibility in the region.

Also, clashes or near clashes like the Greek-Turkish confrontation of January 1996 increase weapons purchase in the concerned region. The Turkish Navy, because of this clash, got the sanction to spend about $3.5 billion on new frigates, maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters in two years.55

Relationship with Peace and Stability

For a long period, writers, observers and commentators on the arms trade have been debating the impact of arms transfers on regional and global peace and stability. For some, all arms transfers have the inherent tendency to destabilise; instability depends on the nature of the recipient country as well as the arms transfers to it in a given security environment. For another stream, arms transfers provide a counter-balance, if the competing power occupies a position of preponderance in a given set up--regional or global. It is also argued that some of the advanced technology weapons such as precision guided munitions can help in maintaining crisis stability by avoiding war. It is opined that it reduces the incentive for pre-emptive attacks.56

In yet another interesting study, conducted by the IISS, basically from the Western perspective, it has been pointed out that Western countries have lost the technological edge or strategic superiority due to over-reliance on arms sales.57 Going by the past utterances of the Western writings, one can easily conclude that this alarm is also for global security and order, as Western countries have unnecessarily been usurping the role of global policeman to maintain international law and order to ensure peace and stability at the international level.

In recent years, with the resurgence of the ethnic conflicts, it is perceived in certain quarters that the role of major weapons is no longer so important for the issue of stability--it is small weapons which have increasing relevance for the security and stability of a nation.58 Though one cannot ignore the destabilising role of small weapons once they circulate in civil society in a clandestine manner, it will be naive to dismiss the importance of major weapons for inter-state rivalry and conflict which can have a decisive impact on peace and stability of the concerned area.

The famous dictum, "politics not weapons makes war," is true to some extent but there should not be an iota of doubt that accumulation of excess weapons combined with parochial politics leads to instability, regional tension and possibility of a violent war. This phenomenon explains the absence of war in many areas that have an arms build-up, and the existence of tension in areas without a serious arms race. For example, in South Asia, Pakistan with its parochial politics and sophisticated arms from outside, have been well known for creating a tense atmosphere by meddling in India's internal matters. Many a Minister of External Affairs of India has expressed fear of regional instability and imbalance due to the arms transfers to Pakistan.

Relationship with Restraining Factors

Generally, the need of some regulatory mechanisms is visualised to control the flow of arms exceeding the defence needs of a country. It is understood that the absence of regulatory mechanisms of the respective governments upto 1935 led to the unbridled circulation of arms59 that in turn fanned a conflict situation which finally culminated in the War, although Krause says that the free market situation begins with the 19th century and before that there was regulation in the arms trade.60 Continuous attempts have been undertaken since then to introduce regulations in transactions. During the Cold War, the emphasis was on nuclear weapons and their carriers like missiles. Not much seriousness was shown in regulating the flow in the other categories of arms transactions.

The end of the Cold War and the experience of the Gulf war made nations, especially the supplier countries, pay increasing attention to the control of conventional arms trade. Various unilateral, bilateral and multilateral efforts have been made in this direction. As a result, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the UN Register for Conventional Arms, the Wassenaar Arrangement and others came into existence, whereas old arrangements continued or were suitably modified for the new challenges. These laws for arms trade regulations have, of course, succeeded in blocking the flow of arms in some cases, but in a majority of cases, when the interests of the supplier countries are threatened, numerous steps have also been witnessed to circumvent such laws. For example, arms supply to Pakistan has been facilitated61 by the Brown Circumvention thus safeguarding the commercial and possibly political interests of the US.

Similarly, on many occasions, even biased, controversial and discriminatory Western laws on human rights are ignored for the promotion of commercial interests. Besides, certain regional arms control agreements like the CSCE sometimes promote transfers of arms in other regions62 as treaty obligations demand liquidation of the stockpiles and financial prudence demands full use of even a disarmament effort so that the disarming country is not accused of wasting resources.

The present trend of merger and internationalisation of defence industries is also considered a stumbling block in export control. According to a commentator, "The flow of difficult-to-control blueprints, technology, components, and subsystems is increased by such cross-national co-operation, and the final product, the finished weapon system, can be exported from the country with the most relaxed export control. Export control of the end product from another country by one supplying component or technology inputs would require a complete redefinition of the lists of items in national arms export legislation or an elaborate system of end-user certificates for such components."63

Interestingly, a study points out that with the dismantling of a regime like the Coordination Committee on Multilateral Arms Exports (COCOM) and radical liberalisation of national controls in some areas, the conventional arms business came down from $38 billion in deliveries in 1989 to $22 billion in 1993.64 However, it admits a considerable rise in civilian high-technology trade with indirect security applications to China and East European countries. It needs to be added that the decline of arms deliveries in the period in question is also dependent on factors other than liberalisation.

Operation in the Clandestine Market

Nevertheless there is a belief among a section of writers on the subject that as long as arms transfer was a domain of the free market economy where no state intervention was in operation, the undercover business was a totally alien concept;65 it was with the increasing state regulation and restrictive international treaties that the trade carved out a special area to undertake covert operations. It existed in the Cold War in various forms and has continued to exist in the period following it. For sure, there have been some changes in the nature of such an operation in the post-Cold War period. Although almost all types of arms are transacted in the covert arms bazaar, the most alarming have been transactions in small arms, and missiles and related technology as well as nuclear material and technology.

In Southern Asia, apart from the supply of lethal small arms to terrorists in different parts of India by Pakistan and China, other notable transactions have been the nuclear and M-11 missile deals between China and Pakistan. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran are believed to be recipients of Chinese missiles and related technologies. Myanmar has also been receiving conventional arms and other military support from China. For its own purpose, China prefers a secret deal.66 There is always an element of secrecy in the most open deal in which China is involved. In the sensitive missile deals, Israel and South Africa have been reported as Chinese partners. All such transactions fall into the gray zone (the clandestine business in which participants are the states themselves). Small arms and some important components and parts of major arms are transacted in the black market, too. In such a market, non-state actors like drug peddlers and smugglers conduct the business. Cash is the most preferred form of exchange in the black market. If the barter system is adopted, it is for the exchange between two forbidden items.


Arms transfers in the 1990s have definitely provided numerous startling revelations. A number of new regions and countries have treaded on the path of arms procurement through purchase. Now, countries are purchasing arms from earlier foes. Almost all countries are exploring commercial options and inviting bids. A move toward mixed armoury has been made, but in most cases the traditional suppliers and their armaments have been found suitable. Still, it cannot be concluded that the market has begun to operate like the pre-1935 situation. The intervening state forces have not disappeared from the market scene. The concept of ally and old-time ally exists but not as a prime moving force. Other factors like commerce and real threat perceptions are equally influential.

Even if the situation of the buyer's market is not existing in the perfect form, the increasing competition has forced the supplier countries to adopt several new strategies. Some new institutions like Rosvoorouzhenie and Austrade have come up to promote the arms business abroad. These new institutions are accompanied by new ethics, too.

The entire process has made way for the diffusion of advanced technology but it does not imply that the asymmetrical framework among the suppliers and recipients states has given way to a symmetrical power structure. The dominant countries, by virtue of the continuous investment in the research and development sector are yet to give up the decisive edge. They are also using the instrument of export control regimes to maintain hegemony. The control regimes and other types of control have hardly shown uniformity, impartiality and non-discrimination. In place of a rightful check on irresponsible arms business, regimes have emerged as centres of power politics among the developed nations of the world.

As the Cold War was a witness of the emergence of regional powers owing to arms transfers, in the post-Cold War era, arms acquisitions by many new countries have not effected a new balance at the regional level. The countries of South-East Asia or East Asia, which have acquired weapons, are already influential economic powers and they command influence not because of their recently acquired armaments but because of their already existing economic might. Similarly, in West Asia, despite the continuous American supply to many Islamic countries, the predominant position of Israel has not been altered. Obviously, attempts will continuously be made to change the balance by some and the maintenance of the status quo by others. And in the process, the arms trade will continue to have a major role. Overall, it can be averred that arms transfers have demonstrated definite changes with surprising continuity.



1. Frederic S. Pearson, The Global Spread of Arms, (Colorado: Westview, 1994), p. 139.

2. Keith Krause, Arms and the State: Pattern of Military Production and Trade, Paperback edition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 1.

3. US, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress on Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1988-1995, August 15, 1996, 96-677F, p. 37.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., pp. 70-74.

6. The Hindu, December 14, 1996.

7. Times of India, July 21, 1995.

8. Jane's Defence Weekly, December 18, 1996, p. 9.

9. For example, Defense News, June 19-25, 1995, p. I-18; Defense News, May 8-14, 1995, p. 10 and p. 17.

10. Defense News, October 21-27, 1996, p. 15.

11. Defense News, December 9-15, 1996, p. 26.

12. Ibid.

13. Defense News, March 25-31, 1996, p. 40.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Michael T. Klare, "Light Weapons Diffusion and Global Violence in the Post-Cold War Era," in Jasjit Singh, ed., Light Weapons and International Security, (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 1995), pp. 1-40.

18. SIPRI Yearbook 1996, Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, (Solna: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 463-486.

19. US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1995, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, April 1996), pp. 53-178.

20. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, (London: Oxford University Press, October 1996), pp. 273-284.

21. n. 3, pp. 56-62.

22. Ibid., p. 29.

23. Ian Anthony, "The International Arms Trade," Disarmament, vol. XIII, No. 2, reproduced in Strategic Digest, February 1992, p. 198.

24. n. 20, p. 277.

25. n. 17, p. 7.

26. For details, see Jasjit Singh, "Conventional Arms Transfers Data: The Search for Representative Data," Strategic Analysis, vol. XVII, n. 12, March 1995, pp. 1481-94; also G. Balachandran, "International Arms Transfers: A Case Study," Strategic Analysis, vol. XVII, no. 12, March 1995, pp. 1495-1506.

27. n. 3, p. 12.

28. Ibid.

29. William Perry, "Argentina: Regional Power Overstretched," in Rodney W. Jones and Steven A. Hildreth, ed., Emerging Powers: Defense and Security in the Third World, (New York: Praeger, 1986), p. 354.

30. For reference, see Rajiv Nayan, "Sukhoi Deal and International Arms Trade," The Pioneer, January 30, 1997.

31. For example, David Muusington, Understanding Arms Transfers: An Analysis of the Post-Cold War Arms Trade and Supplier Strategies for Limiting Conventional Weapons Proliferation, Adelphi Paper, 291 (London: The International Institute for International Studies, 1994), p. 4.

32. Anne Hessing Cahn, et. al., Controlling Future Arms Trade, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977), p. 30.

33. Ian Anthony, "Current Trends and Developments in the Arms Trade," in Richard D. Lambert, ed., The Arms Trade: Problems and Prospects in the post-Cold War World, The Annals, vol. 535 (Philadelphia: Sage Publications, Inc., September 1994), p. 40.

34. Ibid.

35. Defense News, May 8-14, 1995, p. 10.

36. Joel A. Johnson, "Financing The Arms Trade" in Lambert, n. 33, pp. 111-2.

37. Defense News, September 30-October 6, 1996, p. 1 and p. 56; Defense News, May 13-19, p. 30.

38. Defense News, November 25-December 1, 1996, p. 3.

39. Defense News, September 16-22, 1996.

40. Anthony, n. 23, p. 192.

41. Ibid., p. 200.

42. Igor Khripunov, "Conventional Weapons Transfers: US-Russian Cooperation or Rivalry," Comparative Strategy, vol. 14, no. 4, October-December 1995, p. 454.

43. Don Flamm, "US Conventional Arms Transfer--Rhetoric and Reality," Asian Defence Journal, May 1994, pp. 35-9.

44. Defense News, June 3-9, 1996, p. 38.

45. Jing-Dong Yuan, "United States Technology Transfer Policy Toward China: Post-Cold War Objectives and Strategies," International Journal, Spring 1996, p. 322.

46. Michael Brzoska and Frederic S. Pearson, "Developments in the Global Supply of Arms: Opportunity and Motivation," in Lambert, n. 33, p. 69.

47. n. 41, p. 457.

48. Moscow News, no. 9, March 3-9, 1995.

49. Rossiikiya Gazeta, February 9, 1995, quoted in n. 41, p. 457.

50. n. 41, p. 457.

51. Ibid.

52. Cahn, n. 32, p. 43.

53. Defense News, April 1-7, 1996, p. 24.

54. Philip Finnegan, "Kuwait Shifts Focus from Politics to Weapon Quality," Defense News, June 10-16, 1996, p. 8.

55. Defense News, February 5-11, 1996, p. 4.]

56. For discussion, Cahn, n. 32, pp. 52-58.

57. Defense News, October 14-20, 1996, p. 50.

58. Aaron Karp, "The Arms Trade Revolution: The Major Impact of Small Arms," in Brad Roberts, ed., Weapons Proliferation in the 1990s (Massachusetts: the MIT Press, 1995), p. 62.

59. Aaron Karp, "The Rise of Black and Gray Markets," in Lambert, n. 33, pp. 178-179.

60. For discussion, see Krause, n. 2, pp. 64-80.

61. Times of India, July 25, 1995.

62. SIPRI Yearbook 1994, (Stockholm: SIPRI, 1994), pp. 501-502.

63. Elisabeth Skonsand Herbert Wulf, "The Internationalisation of the Arms Industry," in Lambert, n. 33, p. 56.

64. Vincent Cable, "What is International Economic Security?," International Affairs, vol. 71, no. 2, April 1995, p. 320.

65. n. 58, p. 178.

66. Defense News, December 9-15, 1996, p. 26.