The global arms trade is a $60 billion yearly business. The United States controls nearly 40 percent of this trade, defending its turf with the ferocity of a junkyard dog. The 10 biggest arms exporters are — in order — the United States, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, China, Israel, the Netherlands, and Italy. Sweden and Switzerland are close behind. This order shifts from year to year, but one thing never changes: The United States is always No. 1.
According to the Congressional Research Service, due to the current economic downturn, world arms sales dipped 8.5 percent in 2009. But “dipped” is a relative term. The price tag was still $57.5 billion, of which the U.S. share of 39 percent came to $22.6 billion. Russia was second at $10.4 billion, and France third with $7.4 billion in sales. Other countries split the rest.
Most of the trade — $45.1 billion — focuses on developing nations. Of the top seven arms purchasers in 2008, four of them — India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Algeria — are countries that can ill afford to put money into weapons systems. Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt, and Vietnam were also among the bigger arms buyers in 2009, and Iraq is planning to purchase $13 billion in U.S. weaponry. All are countries struggling with poverty.
The United States overwhelmingly dominates arms sales to the developing world. In 2008 it cornered 68.4 percent of such sales, and 45.1 percent in 2009. It is currently negotiating a $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that will probably cost $120 billion when parts and maintenance is added in.
Arms sales many times parallel the foreign policy of the suppliers. U.S. arms sales to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia, Japan, and South Korea arm allies against regional antagonists like Iran, Syria, China, and Venezuela. Arms sales to places like Yemen and Somalia support U.S. allies caught up in civil wars.
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