The World’s Biggest Arms Dealers and Their Biggest Clients

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Source: Courtesy of SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (11 Mar. 2019)

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Source: ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office / Wikimedia Commons

7. Spain
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 3.2%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: Australia, 42%
> GDP per capita: $34,272
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 197,950

A top 10 global arms supplier, Spain’s share of arms exports rose slightly, by 2.3 percentage points, between the two five year periods through 2013 and 2018. The country’s main client is Australia, which is the fourth largest arms importer based on share of all arms imports. Even as Spain’s largest client, importing 42% of all Spain’s arms exports, Australia received twice as much from the United States.

Spain’s second and third largest clients were Turkey and the world’s largest importer of military supplies: Saudi Arabia.

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6. United Kingdom
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 4.2%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: Saudi Arabia, 44%
> GDP per capita: $39,753
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 150,250

As the world’s largest importer of military supplies, Saudi Arabia is a common top client of exporters on this list. The United Kingdom is one such supplier, with 44% of its exports destined to Saudi Arabia. Oman and Indonesia are the UK’s next largest clients, accounting for 15.0% and 11.0% of UK’s arms exports, respectively.

The United Kingdom’s position as the world’s sixth largest arms exporter is due in no small part to the business of its largest defense contractor, BAE Systems. With 2017 arms sales of $22.9 billion, the company is the fourth largest arms manufacturer in the world. UK-based Rolls-Royce is another contributor, with $4.4 billion in arms sales in 2017. Here are the 20 international companies profiting the most from war.

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5. China
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 5.2%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: Pakistan, 37%
> GDP per capita: $15,309
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 2,695,000

China more than doubled its annual military expenditures over the last decade. Its 2017 spending of $228 billion was second in the world after only the United States. There was a small 2.7% uptick in Chinese exports between the five year periods through 2013 and 2018, in stark contrast to the 195% spike between the periods 2004-2008 and 2009-13. Although China remains among the 40 largest importers of military supplies, its total arms imports declined by 7% between 2009-13 and 2014-18.

China’s reach has expanded considerably over that time, with the number of its arms export clients increasing from 32 in 2004-08 to 41 in 2009-13 to 53 In 2014-18. Pakistan remains China’s biggest client as it has been since 1991, accounting for 37% of Chinese military exports in the period 2014-18. Bangladesh and Algeria are China’s next largest clients, purchasing 16.0% and 11.0% of China’s exports, respectively. China has expanded its arms export business despite political limitations. For example, India, Australia, South Korea, and Vietnam, which are each among the world’s largest importers of major arms, do not procure Chinese arms for political reasons.

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4. Germany
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 6.4%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: South Korea, 19%
> GDP per capita: $45,229
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 179,100

Like most major national arms distributors, Germany is an affluent nation. Its GDP per capita of $45,229 is among the highest in the world. And while Germany is Europe’s largest economy, it spends just 1.2% of its GDP on its armed forces, one of the lowest percentages among countries with large arms industries.

In terms of exports, German arms sales comprise 6.4% of world exports, trailing only three countries. The volume of arms exports from the country increased by 13% between 2009-13 and 2014-18. Approximately 30% of German military supplies went to Asia and Oceania, 27% to other states in Europe, and 25% to the Middle East. Germany’s largest client is South Korea. Ships, and submarines in particular, made up 52% of German arms exports in the 2014-18 period.

Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

3. France
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 6.8%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: Egypt, 28%
> GDP per capita: $38,606
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 306,100

Of France’s 78 clients, Egypt was by far the largest, accounting for 28% of French military exports in the 2014-18 period. France’s next biggest clients were India, with 9.8% of France’s arms exports, and Saudi Arabia, with 7.4%. France’s total arms exports rose by 43% between 2009-13 and 2014-18.

Many of the producers of French military supplies are among the world’s largest arms manufacturers. French industrial conglomerate Naval Group and Paris-based Thales sold $4.1 billion and $9.0 billion worth of arms, respectively, in 2017, each among the top 20 companies worldwide — here are the companies profiting the most from war.

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2. Russian Federation
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 21.0%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: India, 27%
> GDP per capita: $24,766
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 1,454,000

Against the broad trend of rising arms transfers (up 7.8% globally), and unlike most countries reviewed by SIPRI (arms exports were up in 16 out of 25), Russian major arms exports decreased by 17% between 2009-13 and 2014-18. Russia’s arms exports continue to decline, especially when compared to U.S. exports. During the 2009-2013 period, the United States exported 12% more military supplies than Russia, in 2014-18 it exported 75% more.

Still, with 21% of all arms transfers globally originating in Russia, the country remains an arms export superpower. And while the decrease in exports came from general declines in deliveries to long-time major clients Venezuela and India, Russian arms exports to other regions rose. Most notably, major arms exports to Iraq rose by 780%, comprising 46% of Russia’s arms deliveries. Russian exports to the Middle East rose 19%. Most of Russia’s arms exports are delivered to its top three clients: India, China, and Algeria. Forty five other nations receive Russian military equipment.

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1. United States
> Share of global arms exports (2014-18): 36.0%
> Main client, share of supplier’s total exports: Saudi Arabia, 22%
> GDP per capita: $54,225
> Armed forces, total personnel (2016): 1,348,400

The United States continues to be far and away the world’s largest supplier of military equipment. U.S. arms exports grew by 29% between 2009-13 and 2014-18, bringing its share of total global exports from 30% to 36%.

Out of the nation’s known 98 clients, the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are the biggest, accounting for 52% and 22.0% of U.S. arms exports, respectively. Exports to the region from the United States rose by 134% between 2009-13 and 2014-18.

While capable of producing all types of its own military equipment, the United States is also one of the world’s largest importers of arms. After falling 47% since 2009-13, major arms imports to the United States remained 16th in the world in 2014-18.