Yesterday iconoclastic commentator on technology, politics and culture, Stilgherrian, shared an interesting discovery on twitter. He had come across the website of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and their Arms Transfer Database. SIPRI has been monitoring international arms trades since 1968 and in the process have assembled an extraordinary database with details of all international transfers of major conventional weapons since 1950. Since March 2007 this database has been available online.
The business of international arms trading is certainly not within my area of expertise, but a rich data-set like this presents a perfect opportunity for a type of data visualization that has not yet appear on the blog: maps. The SIPRI database provides “Trend Indicator Value (TIV)” tables which aggregate trade values between countries. Values are inflation-adjusted, expressed in 1990 US dollars.
Starting with Australia, the data shows that the total value of arms imported by Australia from 1980 onwards exceed exports by a factor of almost 30 times. Imports are largely sourced from North America and Europe, while exports are spread more broadly and include a range of Asian and Pacific countries. Click on the charts to see larger images.
Arms transfers from Australia (1980-2008)
Arms transfers to Australia (1980-2008)
Needless to say, the distribution of arms transfers in and out of the USA looks very different. Over the last 30 years, the USA has exported arms to well over 100 countries across every continent other than Antarctica.
Arms transfers from the USA (1980-2008)
Another big exporter of arms to a wide range of countries is the United Kingdom.
Arms transfers from the UK (1980-2008)
Russia offers a rather different distribution of arms transfers. Russia has exported arms to almost 100 counties, most notably China, but since 1980 has only imported from Germany, Poland and the Ukraine.
Arms transfers from Russia (1980-2008)
I will not offer any further comment on this data, but will leave the maps to speak for themselves. If you would like to see a map for any other countries, feel free to contact me on twitter, @seancarmody. I will add them to this flickr image set.
UPDATE: As Mark Lauer correctly pointed out, these maps were originally inaccurate when it came to countries which were formerly part of the Soviet Union. This has now been corrected in the maps above.