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Global arms exports continue to hover near record highs as the wars in Gaza and Ukraine rage. Cumulative arms exports reached $29.1 billion in 2023, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

That’s a drop from the record high of $33.5 billion in 2022, but above the $27.1 billion average from 2017 to 2021.

The Russia-Ukraine war has dramatically transformed the dynamics of global arms transfers. Russia’s arms exports have declined precipitously since 2019, with a sharp drop in 2023. Long only second to the U.S. in arms exports, Russia has been supplanted by four other countries: Germany, China, France, and Italy. And Ukraine is now the world’s top importer of weapons.

America is the World’s Top Exporter of Weapons

The United States is the world’s top exporter of arms — and by a wide margin. In 2023, the United States exported around $11.3 billion in weapons, according to SIPRI — a whopping 39 percent of all arms exported worldwide that year.

From 2019 to 2023, the United States transferred arms to 107 countries, the largest ever by any country over a five-year period. During these five years, the U.S. share of total global arms exports rose from 34 percent to 42 percent.

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Ukraine was the largest recipient of U.S. arms in 2023, representing 15 percent of the total. It was followed by Japan (9.4 percent), Saudi Arabia (8.3 percent), Qatar (7.9 percent), and the United Arab Emirates (4.4 percent).

Saudi Arabia had long been the top recipient of U.S. arms. But it’s since been supplanted by countries that face growing threats from two revisionist great powers: China and Russia. Yet Gulf Arab states continue spending heavily on an arms buildup despite the easing of tensions with Iran.

Israel remains a top 10 recipient of U.S. arms. It is likely to rise in the rankings in 2024 as its Gaza war continues.

Russia: From Arms Exporter to Importer

Russia was once long the world’s second-largest exporter of arms. It has lost that mantle since the Ukraine invasion as it reoriented its weapons industry — and its broader economy as a whole — to meet its own defense requirements. In 2020, Russia accounted for around 20 percent of all arms exports. That figure fell to 4.4 percent in 2023.

As Russia’s arms exports have dropped, it’s become an importer of arms. Russia is now securing arms from its allies and partners, including China, Iran, and North Korea. In 2020, Russia imported a mere $1 million in arms. That figure rose to $129 million in 2022 and $134 million in 2023. The majority of those weapons came from Iran.

These are the world’s top arms exporting countries in 2023. (Image Credit: © Globely News. All Rights Reserved.)

Prior to the Ukraine invasion, arms transfers from Moscow had already been in decline, falling by approximately 22 percent from 2016 to 2020 due to U.S. sanctions, including the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA. A study by RAND in 2021 argued that several prospective buyers of Russian arms opted not to go forward with purchases from Moscow due to the “chilling effect of possible sanctions.”

India remains Russia’s largest arms export market. Yet, while Russian-origin platforms continue to make up a majority of India’s major weapons systems, Indian imports of Russian arms fell from $1.2 billion in 2019 to $405 million in 2023. That’s a 66 percent drop over those five years. During this period, India was the world’s largest arms importer.

France, Italy, Turkey, and Poland Rising

Despite U.S. and Russian dominance of the global arms trade, the past decade has seen dramatic growth in the rise of second-tier and niche arms exporters, including France, Spain, South Korea, and Turkey.

For the first time ever, France eclipsed Russia in 2020 as India’s largest source of arms. India, driven by its rivalries with China and Pakistan and growing Hindu nationalism, was the world’s largest importer of arms over the 2019-23 period. Foreign acquisitions continue to make up around or above 40 percent of India’s defense acquisitions even after the announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature ”Make in India” program in 2014.

From 2019 to 2013, France was the world’s second-largest exporter of arms. Its weapons exports grew by 47 percent compared to the previous five-year period. India is France’s largest single-country export market, but it also supplies countries like Egypt and Qatar.

Over the 2019 to 2023 period, Italy saw its arms exports grow by 86 percent. Turkey — whose long-range Bayraktar TB2 combat drones have played significant roles in conflicts in Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Ukraine — saw its weapons exports grow by 106 percent over the past five years. During this period, Poland’s arms exports rose by a phenomenal 1138 percent.

NATO member Turkey has supplied the embattled country of Ukraine with its armed Bayraktar TB2 drones. (Image Credit: Bayhaluk/Wikimedia Commons)

The World’s Top Arms Exporters

These are the world’s top twenty arms-exporting countries in 2023, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

19. (tied) Czechia — $93 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

19. (tied) Switzerland — $93 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

18. Slovakia — $154 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

17. Iran — $184 million

16. Norway — $222 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

15. Netherlands — $258 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

14. Canada — $285 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

13. Sweden — $299 million

12. Poland — $499 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

11. Turkey — $600 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

10. South Korea — $621 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

9. Spain — $940 million

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

8. Israel — $1.2 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

7. United Kingdom — $1.2 Billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

6. Russia — $1.3 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

5. Italy — $1.4 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

4. France — $2.0 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

3. China — $2.4 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

2. Germany — $3.3 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

1. United States — $11.3 billion

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Globely News team tracks the leaders, states, networks, ideologies, and technologies that are reshaping the world order. From AI and electric vehicles to the rise of China, we've got you covered.

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