The international arms trade exists for weapons to be made in one country and sold for use in another country or occasionally to be transshipped to a third party.
The international arms trade exists for weapons to be made in one country and sold for use in another country or occasionally to be transshipped to a third party. The reason for this has often been that the source country has an extensive manufacturing capacity, usually for high-grade weapons, or that it is not possible to manufacture weapons in the country where they will be used. A third sector of the international arms trade follows a conflict when unused weapons may be sold to another party.
Since ancient times, the international arms trade has been very important, because if one side in a conflict has access to better weaponry, that gives them the military edge in conflicts. Also in terms of the money spent on weapons, it has been estimated that some 2 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is spent on weaponry, leading to the emergence of a military industrial complex. In 2007, it was estimated that nearly $33 billion (in U.S. dollars) was spent on weapons in that year. In 2008, that amount declined significantly, to about $14.3 billion, and by 2009 it was expected that the financial constraints on many countries would continue to cause a diminution of the international arms trade. However, the arms trade will remain important for military as well as economic reasons well into the foreseeable future.
There is much evidence that there was an extensive international arms industry during ancient times. Much of this concerned the development of particular armaments, notably the use of
Greater trade in medieval times allowed for the increasing manufacture of weapons, and the decline in the large empires and creation of city-states led to changes in the international arms trade. Some parts of Europe–especially northern Italy and central Germany–became favored locations for the manufacture of armor, both for its durability and for its style. It became customary for members of royal families and the nobility to import armor from these places, as is evident in armories around Europe and the Mediterranean.
An AK-47 rifle, one of the most popular weapons of the international small-arms trade.
Gradually within Europe, in the German and Italian states, the emergence of an arms industry led to the manufacture for sale of
Many of the weapons were sold to places that lacked the industrial capacity or manufacturing ability to make their own weapons–parts of North America, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa–and some groups able to buy weapons from Europe were able to create secondary empires of their own. The export of weapons to Asia led to a transformation in that continent, with some groups able to reequip their armies quickly and others unable to do so.
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair, testifies before a joint House-Senate panel in 1987. North, a Marine officer working for the National Security Council, was accused of directing a secret U.S. operation to sell arms to Iran and secretly diverting the profits to the Contras, a group trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. He was found guilty of crimes arising from the affair, but his conviction was overturned.
Although companies had operated since medieval times making arms, the nineteenth century saw companies such as
By the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, a number of major arms manufacturers had emerged. In Britain,
After World War I, the press focused particularly on Zaharoff and the role he had played in that war. The international arms trade was denounced by speakers such as the Reverend
The emergence of new nation-states after World War I helped increase the international arms trade. Some of the smaller countries were not large enough to manufacture their own weapons and were forced to acquire arms from overseas. This situation continued after World War II, with many countries gaining their independence. The constant reequipping of armies in Latin America and Africa by foreign arms dealers led to an emerging body of literature outlining the role played by the international arms trade. As well as the main manufacturers–the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union/Russia, and then China–there were a number of other countries that became heavily involved in the international arms trade, such as Czechoslovakia, Chile, Argentina, and also, because of their peculiar circumstances, South Africa and Israel. The latter two both manufactured their own weapons to prevent reliance on foreign imports, but to finance their arms industries, they began a trade in exporting their weaponry–with the added benefit to purchasers that the weapons had generally been tested in combat.
In the period from the 1960’s to the present day, the international arms trade has continued to be an important part in the extension of the political and foreign policy goals of many countries. The sale of arms from one country to another tended to signify political support rather than a mere financial transaction, and similarly there were organized boycotts of sales of weaponry, such as the United Nations’ sanctions on the apartheid government in South Africa. Countries and companies involved in breaching such sanctions were often blacklisted, as in the case of those who supplied the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein in the run-up to Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Laurance, Edward J. The International Arms Trade. New York: Lexington Books, 1992. Written at the time of the first Gulf War, this volume examines arms trading in the light of international realtions theory to analyze the impact of the international arms trade on policy makers. Levine, Paul, and Ron Smith, eds. The Arms Trade, Security, and Conflict. New York: Routledge, 2003. A collection of papers by world experts considering the economics as well as security impact of the arms trade. Navias, Martin, and Susan Willet. The European Arms Trade. New York: Nova Science, 1996. Examines the arms export and trade policies of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the European Union from several perspectives. Index. Sampson, Anthony. The Arms Bazaar: From Lebanon to Lockheed. Rev. ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991. From Vickers and Krupp to Lockhead and Northrop, Sampson looks at arms scandals in the Middle East, the role of arms trader Adnan Khashoggi, the buildup of arms sold to Iran, and the impact of the first Gulf War. Yihdego, Zeray. The Arms Trade and International Law. Portland, Oreg.: Hart, 2007. A research fellow in law at Oxford Brookes University presents an authoritative and thorough overview of the impact of small arms and light weapons (SALW) on the post-Cold War modern world, which takes a hard look at the numbers (700 million SALW worldwide, traded by 99 nations and involving 1,000 companies). Argues that these unregulated weapons constitute a looming crisis and that there is an imminent need to address them legally at both the national and international levels.
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