A fact that Russia-Ukraine war reminded: Arms trade

On the 56th day of the Russia-Ukraine War, while Russian attacks in the east of Ukraine continue, Russian President Putin claimed that the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which was successfully tested, will “make Russia’s enemies think twice”. In the statement made by the Russian authorities, Sarmat is asserted to be the most advanced missile in the world with its range and destructive ability, and highlighted that it can hit any target in the world (The Moscow Times, 20.4.2022).

While Putin’s words reveal the frightening extent of the point reached in the arms race, we also understand that how humanity has been unsuccessful in maintaining of international peace and security. In this study, based on the data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the arms trade carried out around the world will be emphasized and the information obtained will be evaluated at the end.

SIPRI’s study on the arms trade covers main weapons/weapon systems. Such as; aircraft, air defense systems, anti-submarine weapon systems, armored vehicles, artillery guns, engines of military weapon systems, missiles sensor devices, reconnaissance satellites, ships and others (12.7 mm. caliber guns, guided anti-tank guns, 57 mm. caliber turrets, etc.).

According to data provided by SIPRI, the chart showing the top ten countries in arms exports, their shares in global arms export and the importing countries which buy more than the others is given below.

The top ten countries in arms export, their shares, and the importing countries which buy more than the others

                                            Source: SIPRI Arms Transfers, Database, Mar. 2021

According to data provided by SIPRI, the share of the top ten arms exporting countries in arms trade in the world is 90.3% between 2016-2020 and 87.4% between 2011-2015. In other words, the top ten countries increased their share in global arms export between 2016-2020 compared to 2011-2015.

The US, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom, among the top six countries in arms export, are permanent members of the UN Security Council, which is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. The share of the permanent members of the UN Security Council in world arms export is 73.7% between 2016-2020 and 73.8% between 2011-2015. In other words, the permanent member states of the UN Security Council realize approximately ¾ of the world’s arms export and kept their position in this area between 2011 and 2020.

Compared to the 2011-2015 period, the share of the US, France, Germany, Israel and South Korea in world arms export increased between 2016-2020. In particular, the increase in the share of France is remarkable. The US, which exports weapons to 96 countries around the world, sold approximately 47% of the weapons it exported to the Middle Eastern countries between 2016-2020.

Worldwide, the countries that purchase most weapons are Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and China, respectively.

Today, the volume of arms trade is approaching 30 billion dollars worldwide, exceeded 40 billion dollars between 1981-1985, and over 35 billion dollars between 1986-1990 towards the end of the Cold War (Wezeman et al. 2021, p.1).

As of 2003, humanity has lived without war in only 268 of the last 3400 years (Büyükışık, 2020, p.19). This trend continues in the first quarter of the 21st century too. We can summarize the eight fatal wars witnessed in this period as follows: The Second Congo War, the Syrian Civil War, the Darfur Crisis, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the war against Boko Haram, the Yemeni Civil War, the Ukraine-Russia War (Ray, Britannica). In our study, the parties to these wars and their reasons will not be mentioned, but human losses will be emphasized.

In the Second Congo War (1998-2003), approximately 3 million people lost their lives, mostly civilians. It is estimated that approximately 470 thousand people died directly or indirectly in the Syrian Civil War, which caused the average life expectancy in the country to decrease from 70 to 55 years. In the crisis in Darfur located in the west of Sudan, 300 thousand people lost their lives and approximately 3 million people had to migrate from their places of residence.

During the Iraq War, between 2003-2010, 85 thousand Iraqi civilians lost their lives; The number of civilians who lost their lives in the chaotic environment between 2013-2016 is estimated to be more than 50 thousand. The number of people who lost their lives in the Afghanistan war witnessed between 2001-2016 is approximately 65 thousand. As a result of Boko Haram’s attacks, about 11 thousand people were killed and more than 2 million people were forced to migrate. In the conflicts in Yemen, as of 2016, 10,000 people died, 4000 of them were civilians.

According to UN data, as of April 2, 2022, the number of people forced to immigrate from Ukraine reached 4.1 million (DW 2.4.2022). It is known that the population of Ukraine before the crisis was 37 million. The number of people who lost their lives in this war is constantly increasing. The cause of these losses is the man-made weapons which are seen as commercial products.

The information obtained can be interpreted as follows:

In this study, although the phenomenon of war is not denied, it is reminded that the time has already come for humanity to mirror itself, its sincerity and the international system it has established in the context of arms trade.

According to the UN convention, although war is prohibited except for the right of self-defense and participation in UN Security Council resolutions, countries continue to arm in order to ensure their survival and deterrence against their opponents. When the countries which meet their own needs see the weapon as a commercial product, the impossibility of ensuring international peace and security comes with it.

A part of the GDP consists of the income from weapons for a country which invests in arms industry. It is also a fact that with the investment made, employment is provided within the country. However, when the same country sells the weapon(s) as a commercial product to another country, this situation also triggers armament at regional and global level. The enemy of a country, which the arms are sold, feels compelled to arm to be strong with a sense of insecurity, and then this spiral continues and grows.

The rules of economics, based on the supply-demand balance, are also valid in the arms trade. A product must be needed so that the demand for that product will increase and the producer can produce to meet the supply needed by the market. In this case, the issue of creating an environment that will ensure the need for that product, and directing/convincing/coercing the buyer comes into play. In international relations, such activities of great powers are frequently witnessed. This is the most important reason why humanity lives in a constant state of war.

The fact that the countries, the permanent members of the UN Security Council responsible for ensuring international peace and security within the UN system, receive the lion’s share from the arms trade, reveals the point reached in this regard. The Turkish proverb “Where the front wheel goes, the rear wheel goes too.” clearly reveals the situation in arms trade experienced on global level.

International peace and security can become sustainable as long as humanity does not arm, but develops the ability of diplomacy and reconciliation, and makes an approach that understands and resolves mutual concerns prevail. Otherwise, the system that has been tried for hundreds of years will continue; In return for blood, tears, separation, migration, hunger and death, more advanced weapons will be invented, and in a climate of fear, the end that we can all foresee will be approached step by step. This state of affairs can be prevented by increasing public awareness at the global level. Changing of this destiny depends on attitude of humanity.


Büyükışık, E. (2020). İnsan ve Savaş, Kırmızıkedi, İstanbul.

DW. (2.4.2022). BM: Ukrayna’yı terk edenlerin sayısı 4,1 milyonu aştı

Ray, M. 8 Deadliest Wars of the 21st Century

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Sources and methods

The Moscow Times. (20.4.2022). Sarmat Missile Will Make Russia Foes ‘Think Twice’ – Putin

Wezeman, P.D. vd. (March 2021) Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2020, SIPRI Fact Sheet.

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