Blood Money

Arms transfers are at their highest levels since the Cold War's end



Global arms sales are booming, despite a multilateral Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) officially adopted in 2013. As of last month, 105 countries have ratified the ATT, including half the world’s top ten arms producers. The U.S. signed the treaty in 2013 but never ratified it. Critics of the treaty see problems concerning national sovereignty and threats to the Second Amendment. President Trump announced at an NRA meeting last April that the U.S. would be withdrawing its treaty signature. Who needs reduced human suffering, cooperation, and responsible action when there’s money to be made?

The ATT forbids arms transfers “when there is a defined level of risk that war crimes or serious violations of international human rights law will be committed.” Since that risk is commonplace and high in contemporary conflict zones (really, who these days believes in a fair or just war?), one fails to see how the treaty wouldn’t devastate arms sales when good will and transparency are in place on all sides. Which they aren’t.

Some major arms buyers commit serious human-rights violations, but the cash continues to flow. At the bottom of this page, a link to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) offers links to data with dollar values on the global arms-trade boom. Some highlights of the data:

  • The total value of global arms trade in 2017 was almost 100 billion dollars. That’s the portion we know about.
  • The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of arms, with Saudi Arabia being its biggest recipient. More than half of U.S. exports and British exports go to the Middle East.
  • The next four biggest exporters are Russia, France, Germany, and China. France and Germany signed and ratified the ATT.
  • After Saudi Arabia, the four biggest importers are India, Egypt, Australia, and Algeria.
  • International arms transfers are at their highest levels since the end of the Cold War.
  • The U.S. accounted for over one-third of global military spending last year.

Before we draw analogies to the Cold War arms race and how Reagan won peace through strength (which really is wonderful), let’s remember that the main Cold War parties were nations with deep Christian roots. While the West has been enjoying relative peace, our new enemies are stockpiling arms and tech know-how, ready when the sands shift to turn our own creations against us.

A link to SIPRI’s website:

which contains links to data spreadsheets.


Barbara E. Rose is Web Editor of the NOR.

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