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US is major driver of global expansion in arms trade, report finds

Study finds US arms exports on the rise as manufacturers ship more weaponry to Middle Eastern states

The international arms trade is booming, with America the major driver of its growth, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

SIPRI researchers Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman found that the “volume of international transfers of major weapons” from 2010 to 2014 was 16 percent higher than it was in the four preceding years.

The United States was the biggest exporter during that period, ahead of Russia and China. U.S. weaponry accounted for 31 percent of exports from 2010 to 2014, the study states.

Courtesy of SIPRI

“It is by far the largest exporter, and its exports are definitely increasing,” Siemon Wezeman told Al Jazeera. “It’s gaining on the main competitors. There are a number of reasons for that, of course. A very important one is that a number of markets where the U.S. is normally quite strong are gaining again, especially the Middle East."

Middle Eastern states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel accounted for about one-third of U.S. exports. American weapon manufacturers also shipped a significant chunk of their output to Asia and Oceania, in particular South Korea and Australia. Wezeman cited India as a “new market for the U.S.” and a source of growth.

India has dramatically increased importation of foreign arms, bringing in 140 percent more weaponry from 2010 to 2014 than it had from 2005 to 2009. The country now leads in arms imports, followed by Saudi Arabia, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Wezeman said he expected the United States to export even more arms in the coming years.

Courtesy of SIPRI

“I would expect that to continue …  at a very high level,” he said.

In part, that is a response to declining investment in new weaponry for the U.S. armed forces, according to SIPRI arms and military expenditure program director Aude Fleurant.

“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Fleurant in a statement accompanying the SIPRI report.

According to Wezeman, the United States government has an interest in maintaining those production levels because some of the revenue from exports goes into research and development.

“Without exports, the U.S. arms industry would survive,” he said. “It’s just that for the U.S. government, R&D would become more expensive because nobody’s sharing the burden with them."

The export market for U.S. arms manufacturers will likely grow “from 5 to 10 percent of their total output to 25 or 30 percent, maybe more,” he said.

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