Elements of the Arms Trade and Patterns of Proliferation

  • William J. Durch


In the half-century between the end of World War II and the mid-1990s, more than 150,000 major conventional weapons worth at least $750 billion flowed into the developing world in patterns of supply and demand that changed decade by decade.1 This chapter introduces the suppliers, the recipients, and the weapon systems involved in that trade, traces its patterns from 1950 to 1997, and examines in some detail, going beyond simple bean counts, the increasing sophistication of weapons transferred to developing countries and how quickly they reached this export market. First-line weapons have been reaching politically favored or militarily threatened “early adopters” among developing countries since the 1950s, but the number of developing countries eligible for cutting-edge equipment has greatly increased over time (as, for that matter, has the number of developing countries). The overall flow of arms also increased substantially, from less than $10 billion a year in the mid-1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War, to between $50 billion and $60 billion a year in the mid-1980s, measured in constant 1995 dollars. Note that the range of uncertainty in the numbers for the 1980s is equal to the entire annual value of the arms trade in the 1960s, reflecting both limitations in the available data and the decisions that different providers of data make about what to count as part of the arms trade and how to assign value to it. These differences are a principal reason why, in this book, after these introductory remarks, I assess the arms trade mostly in terms of actual weapons transferred and the relative sophistication of those weapons, rather than in terms of dollar values. Given the limitations of the data in this field of research, readers should become accustomed to thinking of such values as ballpark figures rather than precise numbers, whatever their source. (For more on the data and dollar value problem, please see appendix B.)


United Arab Emirate Weapon System Transport Helicopter Combat Aircraft Attack Helicopter 
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© The Century Foundation, Inc. 2000

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  • William J. Durch

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