A Sukhoi fighter plane, one of Venezuela's recent arms purchases from Russia.
On September 10 the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of the U.S. Congress, released its annual report on arms transfers to the developing world This report is rather unique: relying on U.S. intelligence data, it estimates arms sales from all suppliers worldwide, combining the United States and other countries.
Entitled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations” (PDF), it is often referred to as the “Grimmett Report” after its author, CRS researcher Richard Grimmett. The latest report covers arms transfers from 2002 to 2009.
Due to the global economic crisis, the report found a small drop in arms-purchase agreements to developing countries in 2009. The United States and Russia, however, continue to dominate the market.
The value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 2009 was $45.1 billion, a decrease from the $48.8 billion total in 2008. … Recently, from 2006-2009, the United States and Russia have dominated the arms market in the developing world, with both nations either ranking first or second for all four years in terms of the value of arms transfer agreements. From 2006-2009, the United States made $68.7 billion of these agreements, or 36.7% of them. During this same period, Russia made $42.4 billion, 23.8% of all such agreements, expressed in constant 2009 dollars. Collectively, the United States and Russia made 62.4% of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations during this four year period.
Latin America’s arms purchases lag behind those of developing countries in Asia and the Near East. The report, however, finds a very sharp growth in Latin American countries’ agreements to buy new weapons. Comparing the last two four-year periods (2002-2005 and 2006-2009), CRS documents a fourfold increase.
Regional Arms Transfer Agreements by Supplier, 2002-2009
(Millions of current U.S. dollars)
The table shows 80% growth in U.S. arms sales agreements to Latin America between these four-year periods. But the country that contributed most heavily to the increase is Russia, which was by far Latin America's greatest weapons supplier between 2006 and 2009. Russian arms transfer agreements to Latin America increased by 1,750 percent between 2002-2005 and 2006-2009.
During the 2006-2009 period, the United States in fact drops to third place among Latin America's top arms suppliers. Russia sold the region 46.78% of its weapons, France captured 26.55% of the market, and the United States accounted for 10.23% of the region's arms purchases. This is down from a 23.65% market share in 2002-2005.
Latin America, in fact, is now France's largest regional market for weapons in the developing world: fully 44.06 percent of France's arms sales agreements to developing countries in the 2006-2009 period went to Latin America, compared to 33.57% to the Near East and 22.38% to Asia. While 27.41% of Russia's developing-country arms sales went to Latin America, it sold still more to Asia and the Near East. The United States, by contrast, makes only 3.64% of its developing-country arms sales to Latin America.
Who in Latin America is buying these Russian and French weapons? Mainly Venezuela and Brazil, the only Latin American countries on the Grimmett report's list of the developing world's top ten arms-buyers between 2002 and 2009. Venezuela is fifth in the world with US$12.7 billion worth of weapons purchase agreements during those eight years; Brazil is ninth with US$8.6 billion.
Looking just at 2009, though, yields a remarkable result: Brazil and Venezuela are number one and two in the entire developing world.
Latin America's predominance on the 2009 list may be temporary; the global economic crisis did not hit the region as badly as it did most others. Nonetheless, the world's arms suppliers are clearly pursuing the Latin American market more aggressively -- and the United States is no longer the supplier of choice.