World Bulletin / News Desk
American weapons continued to find its way into contentious regions helped in part by a perceived threat, experts say.
The U.S. has dominated the global arms trade market in the past 8 years thanks to large purchases by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and South Korea, according to a congressional report.
The Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations report which spans 2007-2014 is one of the most detailed unclassified international arms sales data publicly available and was submitted last week to Congress.
The U.S. ranked first in worldwide arms transfer agreements in 2014, according to the report, which is about 50.4 percent of the total market.
The country’s arms sales increased by 35 percent, jumping to to $36.2 billion from $26.7 billion in 2013.
Arms sale volumes of other top supplies remained relatively flat during the time covered in the report, including China, European powers and Russia.
The head of arms and security projects at the Center for International Policy – a nonprofit public policy advocacy group – described the increase in sales as a way for American companies "to deal with the reduction in the Pentagon spending" in recent years due to budget constraints.
Mideast instability, including the rise of ISIL, has created "a perception of threat" which paved the way for arms flow into the region, William Hartung told Anadolu Agency.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners' tensions with Iran also contribute to the flow of arms to the region, he said.
The report said developing nations signed arm agreements valued at approximately 75 percent of all such global agreements and in 2014 signed on to 86 percent of the $71.8 billion global arm deals inked in that year.
Most of the top 10 recipient countries are in the Middle East.
The study concludes that "the strength of their individual economies" appears to be a key factor in developing nations' decisions to buy arms – an assessment at odds with experts.
It also noted that the desire for arms by some the top recipients were driven by external threats.
Hartung said that the discourse by arms supplier countries that "the arms will create stability or some sort of balance of power," has failed because "an embedded perception of threat" paved the way for bigger risks of conflicts.
"I think the more weapons poured in, the more risk of future conflicts," he warned.
Conflict management professor Daniel Serwer agrees with Hartung about Iranian tension and regional instability as an incentive for Gulf countries to buy arms.
"Gulf states are also worried about U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East, which would devolve more defense responsibility to them," said the lecturer from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Saudi Arabia's arms deals during the 2007-2014 period totaled $86.6 billion while India followed the Kingdom by making arms transfer agreements totaling $38.1 billion during the same period.
In 2014, South Korea became the world’s top arms buyer with $7.8 billion in contracts. It was followed by Iraq with $7.3 billion and Brazil with $6.5 billion.
It’s no secret South Korea has been beefing up its military capabilities against it neighbors to the north but according to Hartung, U.S.’s efforts to rebalance power in South Asia against China’s growing influence also might have worked as an incentive to sell more arms to South Korea.
"South Korea has already a strong superiority in conventional weapons over North Korea," he said. "So more weapons are not going to make a big difference there. Whereas the efforts to send a signal to China by arming U.S. allies in the region, I think, is a more reasonable explanation," he said.
Alongside South Korea, Pakistan and India also ranked among top arms recipients, according to the report.
But Hartung finds it a little "surprising" Latin American countries are increasing arms sales during a time of relative calm in the region.
Brazil, was third on the list with $6.5 billion worth of purchase agreements in 2014, primarily for Swedish aircraft.
Venezuela and Argentina were also among top recipients with more than $13 billion in combined sales during the eight-year period.
The high rate of arm purchases in Latin America could be fueled by personal financial gain by top officials, according to the experts who declined to name names.
But despite the increase in sales, the report concluded that “the international arms market is not likely growing”, citing a second consecutive year of sluggish arms sales.
As the market shrinks or is stagnated, dealers will push for selling more arms which might ignite greater competition among suppliers.
"Some arms producers have adopted measures like flexible financing, counter-trade guarantees and coproduction and co-assembly agreements to try to secure sales," according to the report