Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CRS: Recent Trends in Arms Transfers

On August 24, 2012, the Congressional Research Service released its annual report (PDF) on conventional arms transfers to the developing world from 2004-2011. This report provides an account of the level of arms transfers by major weapons suppliers to countries in the developing world. Written by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr, this report is often referred to as the "Grimmett Report."

According to this year's report, trends in arms transfer agreements (represent orders for future delivery) with and actual arms deliveries to developing nations were on the rise in 2011. Total arms transfer agreements were valued at $71.5 billion in 2011, a substantial increase from $32.7 billion in 2010, with the United States and Russia dominating the list of suppliers in the world market. The value of all arms deliveries to the developing nations was $28 billion, "the highest total in these deliveries values since 2004."

The current trend in the Latin American market, as noted by the CRS, shows countries seeking strategic modernization of their military. The report attributes the selectivity of these purchases to constraints by financial resources.

A few developing nations in Latin America ... have sought to modernize key sectors of their military forces. In recent years, some nations in these regions have placed large arms orders, by regional standards, to advance that goal. Many countries within these regions are significantly constrained by their financial resources and thus limited to the weapons they can purchase. Given the limited availability of seller-supplied credit and financing for weapons purchases, and their smaller national budgets, most of these countries will be forced to be selective in their military purchases.

Within the region, Brazil and Venezuela continue to dominate as the leading recipients of arms agreements, ranking 4th and 6th in the developing world, respectively, for the period of 2008-2011. This demonstrates a significant change from the previous four years, particularly with Brazil, which did not rank within the top ten from 2004-2007.

In terms of actual deliveries, however, Venezuela is the only Latin American country in the top ten list, ranking eighth with the value of deliveries from 2008 to 2011 totaling $4 billion. When 2011 is pulled out of the four year time frame, Venezuela moves up to fifth place ($1.7 billion in total delivery value), after Saudi Arabia ($2.8 billion), India ($2.7 billion), Pakistan ($1.8 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($1.7 billion), even though it did not appear in the top ten list for total value of arms transfer agreements made in 2011.

From 2008-2011, France surpassed Russia in the total value of arms transfer agreements signed with Latin American countries. In this time period, 34.69% of the total value of agreements with Latin American countries were signed with France, 31.46% with Russia, and 10.45% with the United States. France's jump to first place indicates a significant increase in the value of their agreements with Latin America, from $500 million between 2004-2007 to $8.6 billion between 2008-2011, more than 17 times the previous four years. (By comparison, Russia's agreements with Latin America totaled $7.8 billion and the United States' agreements totaled $2.59 billion). One more way of looking at it - 49.71% of all arms transfer agreements made by France with countries in the developing world between 2008-2011 were with Latin American countries.

The CRS report distinguishes between arms transfer agreements made and actual deliveries. As indicated above, the report shows France as the supplier entering into the highest total value of agreements with countries in Latin America. However, when looking at actual deliveries of arms, Russia maintains the number one spot, $3.1 billion in total arms deliveries from 2008-2011, while France only delivered $500 million during the same time period ($8.1 billion less than the total value of agreements made). The authors of the report indicate that Venezuela is Russia's principal focus in the region. According to the report's authors, "With the strong support of its President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has become Russia's major new arms client in this region."

Perhaps the most striking fact outlined by the CRS was the shift in the categories of weapons delivered between the two time periods. From 2004-2007, tanks and self-propelled guns lead with 140 units being supplied primarily by Major Western Nations (120). During the period of 2008-2011, we see both a change in major supplier and category. While tanks and self-propelled guns retained its importance, surface to air missiles topped the rankings at 3,120 units delivered, (3,070 from Russia), up from 0 in the previous four years. APCs and armored cars also saw a noted increase in deliveries (80 to 509).

The report's authors do make note that care must be taken when looking at the numbers and categories of weapons delivered. According to the authors, while the data on actual transfers of military equipment is useful in showing "relative trends in the delivery of important classes of military equipment and indicate who the leading suppliers are from region to region over time," it is limited as it does not give "detailed information regarding either sophistication or the specific name of the equipment delivered." Nor does the data "provide an indication of the relative capabilities of the recipient nations to use effectively the weapons delivered to them."

This blog was written by Abigail Poe and Aapta Garg.