UN Arms Data Mixed As Participation Falls
The number of countries submitting reports to the UN conventional arms registry declined for the third year in a row, according to data based on reports received by late September on transfers made in 2009.
In part because of that trend, it is difficult to determine whether trade in conventional weapons also declined in 2009. After increasing to record levels in 2007 and dropping precipitously in 2008, the number of exports reported in one category, small arms and light weapons, fell modestly in 2009. Major weapons exports rose as a total number, but the figures are complicated by a large transfer of missiles designated for destruction. If those missiles are removed from the total, data compiled from the register would show a net decline for the year.
A modest 2009 decline aligns with findings reported by other sources. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service said the conventional arms market shrank in 2009, and the 2010 yearbook produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the market to be relatively flat last year. (See ACT, October 2009.)
Based on a 1991 agreement, the UN Register of Conventional Arms collects voluntary information on imports, exports, domestic production, and holdings of seven categories of major weapons systems. In 2003, countries agreed to request data on small arms and light weapons, but did not create an official category for the weapons. (See ACT, September 2009.)
At least 100 countries submitted records for arms transfers each year from 1999 to 2006, but that number fell to 91 for 2007 and 80 in 2008. By Sept. 30 of this year, only 65 countries had reported calendar year 2009 transfers. States are invited to report to the register by May 31. Some reports come in after that, but most are in by the end of September.
Some of the decrease over the past three years can be attributed to a reduction in the number of countries filing “nil” reports. For 2006, more than 60 countries filed such reports, which claim no transfers in any of the seven categories of major weapons. Nearly 40 did so for 2007 and 32 for 2008. Such reports, which affirmatively state that there were no transfers, are seen as statements of support for the register.
Some experts predicted that the 2009 failure of a group of governmental experts to recommend adding small arms and light weapons as an official eighth category would further erode participation in the register, especially among states that typically filed nil reports. Thus far, however, 30 states have filed such reports, only a small decrease compared to 2008. A larger decrease occurred in the number of states filing reports on imports of major weapons systems, from more than 40 in 2008 to 29 through September for 2009.
Participation declined in all regions, including in the United Nations’ “Western European and Other” and “Eastern European” regional groups. The members of those groups are typically reliable participants in the register and are some of the world’s leading exporting states. Reduced participation by these countries may be particularly important because their reports often offer insight into trade with countries that do not report to the register.
The register’s data do not provide a complete picture of global arms trade. Some countries do not submit reports; different countries have different criteria for reporting transfers; and there is no verification provision. Nonetheless, the register is the primary international mechanism for states to detail their arms trade and is frequently discussed as a starting point for the scope of an international arms trade treaty (ATT) that may be negotiated as early as 2012. (See ACT, September 2010.)
Whether to account for small arms and light weapons is also a key topic in the ATT debate and one with which register participants have grappled for years. Following a call made last year for views on whether the absence of small arms and light weapons as a main category of the register affects participation in and the relevance of the register, six states have submitted opinions thus far.
Trends Mixed for Major Weapons
A comparison of reports submitted to the UN by late September for each reporting year indicates that exports of major weapons systems dropped from 28,577 in 2007 to 7,913 in 2008. In 2009, exports of these weapons rose to 12,351, but 5,357 of that total were missiles the
Most of the register’s seven major weapons categories saw a drop. Because a missile and a warship are each counted as one unit in the register despite the difference in size and capability, comparing overall numbers can be misleading. The seven major weapons categories in the register are tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.
Because missile and missile launcher exports are most numerous, fluctuations in that category drive changes in the overall total of major weapons numbers. For example,
Of those countries claiming missile exports, the
Matt Schroeder, an arms and MANPADS expert at the Federation of American Scientists, highlighted the
In recent years, the
Overall, 27 countries have filed non-nil export reports for major weapons thus far in 2009, providing data on more than 70 recipient states. Those numbers are very similar to the ones at the same time last year for transfers made in 2008.
Although again not filing a report on its small arms and light weapons transfers, the
Fifteen of 19 countries reporting nonzero and nonclassified exports of small arms and light weapons for 2009 indicated the
The four additional small arms categories are assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, and others. Light weapons, which accounted for slightly more than 3 percent of total exports claimed in 2009 by all countries, are defined in seven categories as heavy machine guns, handheld underbarrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable anti-tank missile launchers and rocket systems, mortars of calibers less than 75 millimeters, and others.
Eastern European countries ranked second through fourth in total claimed exports of small arms and light weapons in 2009.
As in past years, submissions to the register did capture some small arms and light weapons transfers to
Although ammunition is not included in the register’s scope,
Overall, exporting states claimed to transfer weapons to more than 140 countries in 2009, a slight increase over 2008.
|Major Weapons Systems||2007||2008||2009|
|Large-Caliber Artillery Systems||630||874||1,282|
|Armored Combat Vehicles||2,254||1,385||768|
|Missiles and Missile Launchers||24,423||4,838||9,548|
|Small Arms and Light Weapons||2,089,986||1,480,790||1,242,411|
|Source: Data derived from claimed exports in voluntary submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms by late September of each reporting year.|
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