The global arms trade has proven remarkably resistant to effective controls – with direct enabling consequences on conflict situations—largely because it is driven by security relationships that are a mixture of: (a) foreign policy, (b) national security/defense industrial concerns, and (c) major corporate interests.
Despite the ubiquity of the problem, very little analysis has focused on capturing precisely how these drivers interact. Even less analysis has focused on how the globalized marketplace complicates single country dynamics. Both of these matters are crucial to understand in order to develop effective, new policy to control the trade.
This project aims to fill this gap by examining the significance of these channels of influence for broader arms export patterns. It further explores the ways in which arms supply decisions and defense industrial relationships interact with exporters’ foreign policy goals towards conflict-affected areas and belligerents.
Who Arms War?: Interactive graphics
Explore interactive graphics on our special website, based on research for the report, “Business As Usual: How Major Weapons Exporters Arms the World’s Conflicts,” by Sam Perlo-Freeman (World Peace Foundation, 2022).
“Weaponized storytelling à la française: Demystifying France’s narratives around its arms export policies,” by Emma Soubrier (World Peace Foundation, April 1, 2022). The Report argues that French storytelling about its weapons exports include that its processes are already “strict, transparent and responsible” enough as they are and that weapons sales are an intrinsically essential support to the country’s strategic autonomy and foreign policy interests. Analysis of exports to five conflict zones suggests that this self-perception is at best incomplete, at worst, erroneous. Access the full report in English or French.
“On the Front Lines: Conflict zones and U.S. Arms Exports,” by Jennifer Erickson (World Peace Foundation, March 23, 2022). The Report finds that conflict does little to alter existing intergovernmental arms trade relationships, even when recipients’ policies and practices do not serve US interests. In contrast, there is unlikely to be an established pre-conflict arms trade between supplier states and armed rebel groups. Instead, the United States may initiate or facilitate arms supplies – small arms especially – as a form of political and military support during conflict. This occurs despite the risk that small arms are frequently diverted to illicit markets or to groups opposed to the United States.
“Missing in Action: UK arms export controls during war and armed conflict,” by Anna Stavrianakis (World Peace Foundation, March 15, 2022). The Report finds that despite over twenty years of controls that include commitments not to aggravate conflict, adversely affect regional stability or contribute to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law, the outbreak of war or conflict has little or no restraining effect on UK arms exports, even where violations of human rights and humanitarian law are documented. The UK has participated in wars, transferred weapons to its allies and partners involved in those wars, and supplied weapons to states involved in wars, and continued to do so well after violations become known. Such exports are typical of UK export policy, not the exception to it. Exports to countries involved in war are among the UK’s largest and longest-standing arms customers.
“Business As Usual: How major weapons exporters arm the world’s conflicts” by Sam Perlo-Freeman (World Peace Foundation, March 3, 2021. ). provides comprehensive analysis of the sales records of the top eleven major arms exporting states, including the U.S., several European countries, the U.K., Russia, China, Ukraine, and Israel. It finds that the business of selling weapons is rarely, if ever, impacted by the outbreak of armed conflict, massive repression, or widespread violations of international humanitarian law. Access the full report, executive summary (in English | French | Arabic), explanation of methodology, charts, graphs, and more.
“Capitalizing on conflict: How defense contractors and foreign nations lobby for arms sales” by Dan Auble (Center for Responsive Politics, February 25, 2021). Defense companies spend millions every year lobbying politicians and donating to their campaigns. In the past two decades, their extensive network of lobbyists and donors have directed $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy. To further these goals they hired more than 200 lobbyists who have worked in the same government that regulates and decides funding for the industry. Access the full report, with graphs, maps and more through OpenSecrets.
In addition to Project Manager, WPF’s Bridget Conley, the research team consists of:
Jennifer L. Erickson is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Boston College.
Dr. Emma Soubrier is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University, in Washington DC.
Anna Stavrianakis is a Professor in International Relations at the University of Sussex, UK.
Project staff includes:
B. Arneson is the Outreach Coordinator for the project and a Research Coordinator for the Corruption Tracker.
This project is made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.