The Big Arms Traders

by Stubborn Mule on 1 August 2009 · 7 comments

My last post looked at the international arms trade. Taking data from SIPRI, I produced maps showing arms exports for a number of countries, including Australia and the USA. While these maps gave an indication of the spread of arms trading, it did not show which are the biggest overall importers and exporters of arms.

To remedy this, I have created two “word clouds”. The first shows arms importers. The size of the text varies with the total value of arms imported over the period 1980 to 2008 (figures are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 1990 US dollars). The three biggest arms importers over this period were India ($58 billion), Japan ($37 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($35 billion). Australia’s imports over this period totaled $15 billion.

Arms Import Cloud

Arms Importers (1980-2008)

The word cloud for exporters is far more concentrated. Between them the USA and Russia* accounted for almost 65% of total arms exports, with exports of $60 billion and $48 billion respectively. France then comes in at a distant third with exports totaling just under $12 billion.

Arms Imports Cloud

Arms Exporters (1980-2008)

If you like the look of these word clouds, you can easily create your own. With Wordle you can create word clouds which are based on word frequency. This example is based on words used here on the Stubborn Mule (notice the prominent appearance of the word “debt”). For a bit more flexibility, IBM have a freely available Word-Cloud Generator, which can either work on word frequencies or take columns of words and numbers. It is written in java and is very easy to configure and run. I used it to produce the images in this post.

* As in the previous post, figures for the USSR and Russia have been aggregated.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dan August 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm

interested to know if iraq racked up their tally before or after saddam. or if it was just a consistent effort? and what about those germans? how did sipri count their purchasers when they were still operating separate bank accounts?

2 stubbornmule August 5, 2009 at 4:27 am

dan: There’s no doubt that aggregating the arms trades from 1980 to 2008 hides the variation over time and you’ve picked two excellent examples where that variation is significant. This chart shows that Iraq essentially accrued all of its total during the Iran-Iraq war. While this one shows that much of Germany’s total is due to East Germany prior to reunification.

3 Tarkin August 5, 2009 at 11:26 am

Interesting data. It has me wondering whether spend on arms is more useful as an understanding of policy than actual arms transfers. After all each nation is going to have some sort of military, but as with normal economic specialisation each country isn’t necessarily going to produce its own equipment. I suppose the word cloud for exporting shows that specialisation is quite important for arms manufacturing.
It’d also be interesting to see whether arms transfers were at the forefront of globalisation or trailed other goods.

4 stubbornmule August 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Tarkin: interesting question. I’d say you are right that the distribution of imports and exports reflects what you would expect to see in a efficient global trading economy. As to whether it leads or lags other trade, that’s a good question. I’ll have to give some though to other trade data that could be used for this analysis. In case you didn’t see it, you may also find this comment on the previous arms post of interest.

5 Tarkin August 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm

That was an interesting post. The dollar value may be less important depending on where it is used. It’d be interesting to compare these figures weighted for the technological/industrial scale of the locations. In and ood way it reminds me a bit of the comparison between a billionaire giving away a million dollars vs a blue collar worker donating a thousand. The value in itself doesn’t tell the whole story.

6 stubbornmule August 14, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Tarkin: you make a good point. Perhaps the easiest thing to look at would be GDP-weighted trade in arms…could be the subject of a future post.

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