What is weapons trade?

According to an appraisal by the Swedish peace research institute SIPRI, the volume of global weapons trade in 2009 amounted to a total of approx. US $51.1 trillion. After a brief decrease in international weapons trade after the end of the Cold war—with its low in the mid-1990s—a rapid increase can be observed, particularly in the past few years. Driven by globally increasing military expenditures, the arms trade now finds itself on a similarly high level as during the East‑West antagonism.

The United States and Russia were the main exporters worldwide at more than 50 per cent between 2005 and 2009. The most important recipient countries in the past few years were the so-called threshold countries, headed by China and India.

There are efforts to curb the potentially destabilising effects of international weapons trade. In the recent past, the UN Security Council imposed weapon embargoes (trade embargoes) against numerous countries, amongst them Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.

The European Union’s Common Position on Arms Exports that was agreed upon in 2008 contains eight criteria that Member States ought to observe when granting arms export licenses to other countries. One criterion is the human rights situation and the domestic situation of the recipient country (cf. www.ruestungsexport.info).

The latest initiative on an improved control of the cross-border trade in military equipment goes back to a decision of the UN General Assembly of 2006 to establish an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). After long discussions in the international community on the exact and final terms of this treaty, it was finally adopted on 2 April 2013. Since then, 130 states have signed the treaty and 69 states have ratified it (state June 2015), and the Treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. The Treaty will apply to battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopter, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons (SALW).

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