The combined exports of 10 countries that export the most weapons in the world account for more than 90% of all weapons exports in the world.
The arms industry is a multi-billion dollar business that spans the globe, and one would be hard-pressed to find a country that isn’t involved in it, either as a buyer or a seller (and often both). For a while, after the Cold War, it seemed that the arms race would soon become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the volume of weapons exports is higher than ever, which doesn’t bode well for the world peace since nations that spend fortunes on their new toys tend to have an itchy trigger finger. It still hasn’t reached the historical high watermark of 4% of global GDP in 1990, but with $1.8 trillion of weapon deals in 2012, it isn’t that far behind.
In order to fully gauge each country’s position on the list, we took data from multiple years, more precisely a period from 2000 to 2015. The reasoning behind this is that single year exports can be misleading since a single large deal (which often weighs hundreds of millions of dollars) can easily move a country up or down a few places, thus skewing the results.
The political and geographical structure of top 10 weapons exporters is very interesting. Out of 10, seven are NATO members. Seven countries are from Europe, two from Asia and one from North America. For the most part, this picture hasn’t changed in the last 100 years or so, ever since weapon proliferation became a major business. Countries with the strongest industrial base tend to not only be the biggest arms dealers, but the owners of the most technologically advanced military weapons as well.
Data came for the SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Their database is the most comprehensive record of arms deals worldwide, going back to 1950. They calculate the value of exports by using Trend Indicator Values (TIV), basically, a production cost of weapons and equipment included in a deal expressed in millions of 1990 US dollars. You can read more about SIPRI methodology here.
The good thing about TIV is that it is normalizing data across the field and providing an absolute value. The bad thing is that it isn’t really comparable to GDP or other economic tools, so it can’t be used to compare investments in the defense sector. For our purpose, though, determining 10 countries that export the most weapons in the world, it is perfect.