Who Are The World's Biggest Arms Importers (And Exporters)?

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023 - 03:40 AM

In 2022, global military budgets hit $2.2 trillion, an eighth consecutive year of increase.

Part of those budgets were used for the procurement of arms, but which countries are major weapons suppliers, and how do they influence the global arms trade?

In the chart below, Visual Capitalist's Bhabna Banerjee and Marcus Lu highlight the top 10 countries with the biggest share of global arms exports using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Which Country Exports the Most Weapons?

The U.S. is the biggest weapons exporter, accounting for 40% of the total volume of international arms transfers between 2018–2022. Nearly one-fifth of these exports headed to Saudi Arabia, and other significant amounts went to Japan (8.6%) and Australia (8.4%).

Below we rank the biggest weapons exporters by share of total volume traded in 2018–2022, as well as their growth or decline from trends recorded in 2013–2017.

Russia (16%) and France (11%) rank close together, followed by China (5%) and Germany (4%) to round out the top five major arms exporters.

However France’s export volumes grown considerably (+44%) from the previous five-year period, thanks to big sales to India, which included 62 combat aircraft and four submarines, one-third of all French weapons trade. This has resulted in France leapfrogging the U.S. as India’s second-largest weapons supplier after Russia.

On the other hand, Russia’s exports by volume has decreased (-31%) even before sanctions kicked in after the invasion of Ukraine. Its biggest trade partners, India and China, have prioritized developing their own weapons industries.

South Korea’s Surging Weapons Exports

Another country whose arms sales are skyrocketing is South Korea, which ranks 9th in the overall share of global arms exports, but has seen a 74% increase in its export volumes. Key recipients include the Philippines, India, and Thailand.

South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol has pledged to grow his country into the world’s fourth largest arms exporter by 2027.

Interestingly, South Korea is one of three countries which is both a top-10 arms exporter and importer (along with China and the U.S.) as it has many takers for domestically produced military equipment, while simultaneously being reliant on American-produced long-range missiles and advanced combat aircraft.

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But, as Visual Capitalist's Marcus Lu and Pallavi Rao note, for every weapon being sold, there is a buyer, and countries spend an enormous amount on their militaries, both to secure national interests and maintain their sovereignties.

A huge part of that goes toward acquiring new arms and equipment, often from other nations, as weapons manufacturing becomes extremely sophisticated and specialized.

We highlight the countries with the biggest share of of global arms imports in 2018–2022, using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Which Country Imports the Most Weapons?

India ranks first in having the biggest share of global arms imports at 11% in the time period between 2018–2022. The world’s fifth biggest economy has the fourth-biggest military budget and relies on Russia to supply most of its foreign arms needs, followed by France and the U.S.

From the Middle East, Saudi Arabia (10%) and Qatar (6%) rank as the second and third-largest importers of weapons, both benefiting from the U.S. as their biggest military trade partner.

Australia, China, and Egypt are all at 5%, with the former primarily supplied by the U.S. while the latter two by Russia. In fact, the U.S. and Russia are the primary sources of arms for 13 of the top 16 countries by share of global arms imports.

Naturally, the two countries are the world’s biggest exporters of military equipment, accounting for 56% of arms exports by volume.

How Arms Imports Align with Geopolitical Events and Alliances

The list of biggest arms importers is also a shorthand for geopolitical hotspots and tense border situations in the world. The India-China-Pakistan trifecta has three nuclear-powered nations in close proximity with each other, with border skirmishes between India and its western and eastern neighbour occurring semi-regularly in the last decade.

Four Middle Eastern nations—incidentally all supplied by the U.S.—speak to attempts to counter Iran’s influence in the region. Meanwhile AustraliaJapan and South Korea are bolstering their forces amidst rising tensions with China and North Korea.

With the UK, Ukraine, and Norway rounding out the top 15, the spillover from the Russian invasion—in Ukraine’s case, being the target of the invasion—is also seen clearly.