Business as Usual: how major weapons exporters arm the world’s conflicts

This report examines the arms export practices of the top 11 arms exporters worldwide in relation to countries involved in conflict. It finds that there is no evidence of conflict acting as an impediment to arms sales by any of the eleven countries.

The harmful impact of arms transfers on conflict has been well-documented by campaigners, humanitarian NGOs, and the United Nations. Further, researchers have found evidence that arms transfers to a state increase the likelihood of conflict breaking out; and, once begun, render conflicts longer and more deadly.

Recognizing these detrimental impacts, in recent decades, policymakers committed to a range of measures designed to control arms exports. These controls were especially focused on limiting sales when conflicts involve patterns of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. In subsequent years, there have been heated debates about whether sales should proceed in a number of particular instances, but there is no comprehensive assessment of the overall impact of policies designed to limit arms sales to countries involved in conflicts.

This research provides the first global analysis of how conflict in, or involving, a recipient state, impacts exporters’ willingness supply arms. It analyses the top eleven global arms suppliers over the ten-year period 2009-2018: the United States, Russia, Germany, France, China, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.

These countries assert widely varying formal policies regarding arms exports, but the empirical record is, for the most part, remarkably similar. In general, the report finds that there is very little evidence that war or armed conflict leads to restraint in arms transfers by major exporters, regardless of whether their stated policies suggest they should. All major arms exporters supplied substantial volumes of arms to at least some of the wars of the current century.

This research was funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is the first of a series of planned reports from the Carnegie-funded project Defense Industries, Foreign Policy, and Armed Conflict, organised by the World Peace Foundation. Subsequent research for this project will involve in-depth case studies of the export policies and practices, and the key drivers behind them, of the USA, the UK, and France.

Read the Executive Summary in English/French/Arabic

View the webinar for the report’s launch from 3 March 2021

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