The U.S.: Arms Merchant to the Developing World

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The arms merchants to the developing world, 2011.

The Congressional Research Service’s latest annual compendium of global arms sales shows the U.S. to be the behemoth when it comes to such commerce. Some highlights:

— Per the pie chart, the U.S. accounted for 79% of the world’s weapons sales to developing nations in 2011, up from 44% in 2010.

— The U.S. accounted for 56% of the world’s weapons sales to all nations from 2008 to 2011, up from 31% from 2004 to 2007.

Many of the weapons are being purchased by Saudi Arabia and other nations in its neighborhood, bulking up for a possible war with Iran.

Notes the report, by CRS’s Richard F. Grimmett and Paul K. Kerr:

In 2011, the United States led in arms transfer agreements worldwide, making agreements valued at $66.3 billion (77.7% of all such agreements), an extraordinary increase from $21.4 billion in 2010. The United States worldwide agreements total in 2011 is the largest for a single year in the history of the U.S. arms export program.

The CRS, in its non-judgmental tone, notes how the rationale for such deals has changed:

For decades, during the height of the Cold War, providing conventional weapons to friendly states was an instrument of foreign policy utilized by the United States and its allies. This was equally true for the Soviet Union and its allies. The underlying rationale given for U.S. arms transfer policy then was to help ensure that friendly states were not placed at risk through a military disadvantage created by arms transfers by the Soviet Union or its allies. Following the Cold War’s end, U.S. arms transfer policy has been based on maintaining or augmenting friendly and allied nations’ ability to deal with regional security threats and concerns.

But every once in awhile it confirms the obvious, as politically-incorrect as it may be to do:

Whereas the principal motivation for arms sales by key foreign suppliers in earlier years might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based as much, if not more, on economic considerations as those of foreign or national security policy.

Kind of reminds Battleland of General Motors, which achieved 54% of the U.S. car market in 1954. Over the past three years, the U.S. has accounted for 54% of the arms sales to the developing world.

h/t Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (Per congressional order, CRS reports are not officially released; Aftergood manages to get most of them and posts them online for the folks who pay for them).


The US tried knocking off 

M-16's to the Afghani's, who loathe them - repeated jamming, due to the harsh conditions there. 

Mostly they don't bother, amp;  just resell AK variants - hundreds of thousands of them dumped into various conflict zones - contactors apparently "lost" about 100,000 of them in Iraq in one hit, amp; unfortunately that is not untypical. They are also the most heavily used weapons by US military contractors, amp; regularly seem to go walkabouts.

Egypt, China, amp; several eastern European nations produce AK variants for the US under contract, along with numerous RPG variants, amp; many US firms are involved in the trade.

That said, the original Russian variants are much more prized by various combatants, amp; go for higher prices.


Last time I checked,  rebels, insurgents, guerrillas aren't running around with M-16's now are they? The enemies the US faces (besides Iran, the only exception) aren't using any sort of American equipment. The US is renown to hand out weapons rather than sell them. When it does, it's only to support nations that have regional and strategic importance to the US like Saudia Arabia, UAE, Taiwan, etc. 

This statistic doesn't account for the dramatic fall in arms sales from several European nations, and particularly Russia and China. The cold war is over and the large stockpiles of reserve weapons have already been sold  and much are in black market circulation. Scandals surfaced from conflicts in Sierra Leone and Rwanda have made weapons deals politically unappealing and as a result has dwindled over the past decade. Finger-pointing went largely to former Soviet territories like Ukraine, but the US avoided criticism as it has much tighter restrictions on arms sales. However the US still gives out weapons like candy during Halloween when it supports a cause. 

So why the increase now? Most of the sales are to Iraq and Afghanistan, much of it with US aid money. Abrams tanks and F-16s to Iraq and light vehicles and helicopters to Afghanistan.


Yeah keep on preaching the world in human rights while you make heaps of blood money in the name of freedom and democracy and keep Americans employed.


This point of this article is just silly. The US sells arms to GOVERNMENTS all over the world. It's not as if they are hanging out on street corners, selling Saturday night specials out of the trunk of their cars. Do any of your really believe ANY country would not arm their allies? The logical progression of that thought is that others would sell them weapons, at which point they would no longer be OUR allies. This is a world where force of arms gets your freedom, or keeps you free, or stops others from taking what is rightfully yours. Platitudes about some Nirvana where the US sits above it all, unaffected by world events, is just nonsense.


This has always makes me feel icky. How can these little countries justify the expense unless they use them? Maybe I am ignorant about what good this does the world.


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