Larger but Less Known: Authorized Light Weapons Transfers

Book Chapter

Herron, Patrick; Matt Schroeder ; Jasna Lazarevic & Nicholas Marsh (2011) Larger but Less Known: Authorized Light Weapons Transfers, in The Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (8–41).

​Larger but Less Known: Authorized Light Weapons Transfers

This chapter examines the global trade in light weapons, which include mortars, grenade launchers, recoilless rifles, and portable missiles and rockets. Despite the importance of light weapons to modern military operations and the potential threat to international security posed by excessive or ill-conceived light weapons transfers, the international trade in light weapons is significantly less transparent than the trade in other weapons, including small arms. The chapter sheds new light on this trade through an analysis of data on light weapons transfers to more than 70 countries. Based on this data, the Small Arms Survey estimates the annual value of the light weapons trade to be USD 1.1 billion.

The chapter also includes an update of the Small Arms Survey’s annual Transparency Barometer, which measures the extent to which states report on their small arms transfers.
The chapter is part of Small Arms Survey’s ongoing, multiyear reassessment of the value of authorized international transfers of small arms and light weapons, their parts, accessories, and ammunition. The reassessment unpacks the previous estimate of USD 4 billion, one element of the trade at a time. This year’s assessment of light weapons transfers is a significant improvement over previous assessments. By combining data from publicly available sources with hitherto unreleased data obtained directly from governments, the study captures significantly more of the documented trade in light weapons than previous efforts.
The top three exporters in 2008 were the United States, Italy, and Germany.
An analysis of this data yields an estimated annual value of USD 242 million for the documented trade, with anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs) accounting for more than half of this total. Through extrapolation, data on the documented trade was used to derive an estimated value for the undocumented trade of USD 872 million. When combined, the two figures yield an estimated total annual value of USD 1.1 billion for international transfers of light weapons. Table 1.4 breaks down these figures into subtotals by category.
The 2011 edition of the Transparency Barometer identifies Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Germany as the three most transparent major exporters. It assesses 49 countries’ reporting practices: the 48 countries covered in the 2010 Barometer plus the Philippines—all believed to have exported at least USD 10 million worth of relevant materiel in 2008 or 2009. The least transparent exporters are Iran and North Korea, both scoring zero. Belgium and the United States broke into the top ten this year, replacing Sweden and Denmark (which now rank 11th and 14th, respectively). The average score fell slightly since last year (from 11.50 to 11.40), although the average score of the top ten countries rose from 17.45 to 18.00 points. Belgium experienced the greatest point increase with its score rising by three points (from 14.75 to 17.75) due to better reporting in the Belgian regions on temporary exports, end users, and licences granted and refused. The greatest increase in percentage terms was Taiwan, whose score rose 24 per cent from last year thanks to better reporting to UN Comtrade (see Table 1.2).
The average annual documented trade in light weapons totals USD 242 million.