The world arms market: prosperous but contradictory

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The largest exporters and buyers of weapons in the world are countries that are in political and social conflicts, which raises questions about the market

The world arms market: prosperous but contradictory

Affirming something about the arms market, whether at the local level, in Latin America, or in the world panorama, is quite difficult, since this market is loaded not only with economic or political connotations but also with ethical and moral issues. Is it normal for the great world powers to sell their weapons to countries in conflict? What consequences does this market bring? To understand a little more about this situation, it is necessary to review some data that can provide a clearer idea of what the global arms market is.

Leer en español: El mercado mundial de las armas: prospero pero contradictorio

The top 10 of arms dealers

According to the report offered by The Stockholm International Peace Research in 2018, between 2013 and 2017 the countries that led the sale of weapons worldwide are all world powers and, in their majority, European. In place 10 is Holland, followed by Italy, Israel, and Spain, which are between 2.1 and 2.9% of total arms sales. Subsequently, there are the United Kingdom, China, France, and Germany, who represent between 4.8% and 6.7%. Finally, there are the two major exporters: Russia and the United States, who represent 22% and 34%, respectively.

Its biggest buyers also say a lot about the political landscape in terms of weapons: India is the largest buyer in Russia and Saudi Arabia the largest buyer in the United States.

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What does this top of sellers and their biggest buyers say? Basically, the world powers are concerned with strengthening a prosperous market, as it is with weapons, but its distribution is clearly linked to situations of political instability in the countries that receive the weapons. However, there are also small details that account for the preferences of some and other buyers.

According to the BBC, for example, the member countries of NATO prefer to buy from the United States for two reasons: first, it is an allied country. Second, although their prices are considerably higher, weapons are sold along with training programs and guarantees that make a more attractive offer than other cheaper markets.

However, this is only the legal arms distribution market. It is well known that the traffic of these products is quite high and generates high profitability for those who carry it out. For example, according to data provided last year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), 72% of the weapons confiscated in 2014 in Mexico come from the United States, obtained through smuggling.

It has been proven that contraband from this country to Latin America is quite broad, due to the difference in regulations for the acquisition of weapons in the United States and in Latin America, the former being much easier.

And even more, there is a gray area between arms smuggling and the legal market, and these are unauthorized sales. One case would be Mexico, and the German company Heckler & Kock. Throughout the 21st century, Mexico has progressively increased its purchase of weapons, reaching the highest point in the period from 2014 to 2018. Between 2006 and 2009, however, in Mexico the purchase of an arsenal of G36 rifles was made, coming from this German company which did not have permission to sell them.

Almost ten years later, the German government decreed a fine of 3.7 million euros for this illegal sale of weapons, which suggests a strict control, although the reality of the jury affirms otherwise, since the judge was very strict in clarifying that neither the arms industry in Germany nor the use of them in Mexico was judged, but the transaction as such, according to Deutsche Welle.

These gray areas make this market even more complex to discuss.

And where are the controls?

An issue that necessarily comes to light when talking about the sale and purchase of weapons is the control that different states have for their bearing and use. The United States is infamously recognized for that, because its laws are so flexible in some states that, often, the tragic attacks and the growing deaths are often associated with this lack of strict control. And the discussion in this country is active and frequent.

However, what happens in other countries? The recent attacks in countries like New Zealand, Holland or Brazil, expose ambiguous policies on the carrying of arms and the position of each society against them. In the case of Brazil, for example, President Bolsonaro has been emphatic in making the requirements for the carrying of arms more flexible, because he sees in this a door to increase the security of each individual.

Undoubtedly, the arms industry, which usually prefers to call itself a sector of defense in each country, exploits the advantages of a conflict, present or future, from the sale of "security", although many times everyone decides to look aside about the real consequences of what it means to sell these products.


LatinAmerican Post | Jorge Ovalle

Translated from "El mercado mundial de las armas: próspero pero contradictorio"