WASHINGTON — The United States has increased its share of the global arms market, while the Middle East is showing steady growth as a customer, according to new information released March 15 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

From 2015 to 2019, the U.S. contributed about 35 percent of global arms sales. SIPRI’s new figures, studying the years 2016-2020, show the U.S. contributing about 37 percent of the overall arms market. American arms customers included 96 different states during this time period, with 47 percent of those sales going to the Middle East, according to the think tank.

Saudi Arabia, which was a favorite customer of the Trump administration, accounted for 24 percent of total U.S. arms exports, the report stated.

However, there are hints that overall global arms sales may be hitting a plateau. For the first time in 15 years, SIPRI found that the volume of deliveries of major arms between countries did not increase between the five-year blocks of 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.

“It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over,” Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said in a statement. “‘For example, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could see some countries reassessing their arms imports in the coming years. However, at the same time, even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, several countries signed large contracts for major arms.”

Compared to the 2011-2015 time period, Russian arms sales declined 22 percent, French sales increased 44 percent, German sales increased 21 percent and Chinese sales decreased 7.8 percent.

While China is viewed in the U.S. as a potential threat to American military exports, it’s not producing everything in-house. In fact, Beijing was the largest arms importer in East Asia, bringing in 4.7 percent of all global arms imports in 2016-2020, the think tank found.

The bulk of China’s imports comprised air defense systems, combat aircraft and engines for combat aircraft from Russia — the latter of which SIPRI noted is likely to decrease as domestic capability comes online.

Other notable points included:

  • Arms exports by South Korea increased 210 percent in 2016-2020 from 2011-2015. However, even after that growth, Seoul still captures only a 2.7 percent share of global arms exports.
  • Israeli exports increased by 59 percent in 2016-2020 compared to 2011-2015, and now account for 3 percent of the global total. Israeli firms are now looking to tap into the previously closed-off Middle Eastern market.
  • Arms exports from the United Kingdom dropped 27 percent in 2016-2020 from 2011-2015, giving the country 3.3 percent of the current market.
  • In 2016-2020, Russia supplied 30 percent of arms imports by countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 percent in China, 9.5 percent in France and 5.4 percent in the United States.

In total for the 2016-2020 time period, the United States accounted for 37 percent of sales, Russia 20 percent, France 8.2 percent, Germany 5.5 percent, China 5.2 percent, the United Kingdom 3.3 percent, Spain 3.2 percent, Israel 3 percent, South Korea 2.7 percent and Italy 2.2 percent.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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