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Panel Discussions - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Importance of Tracking Arms Transfers

“The largest volume of [arms] transfers have gone to Asia and Oceania, followed by Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and Africa, during this last five-year period,” Paul Holtom, Director of the Arms Transfer Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told an IPI lunchtime panel on March 20, 2012.

He was presenting data from SIPRI’s arms transfer database, which contains information on all international transfers of major conventional weapons to states, international organizations, and armed non-state groups over the past five years.

The discussion explored current challenges related to international arms controls and the impact of weapons proliferation for peace and stability in different regions of the world. The other panelists were Tsutomu Kono, Political Affairs Officer at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, and Abdullah Alsaidi, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute.

Mr. Holtom said, “There have been significant increases in the volumes of arms transfers to East Africa, North Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Caucasus.” The five traditional major suppliers of conventional weapons continue to dominate arms exports: the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. These countries, he said, account for 75% of all transfers of major conventional weapons between 2007 and 2011. Rapidly increasing their arms exports is China (sixth on the list) who has increased exports in the past five years by 95%, although two-thirds of those transfers have been to Pakistan.

Of the major arms recipients, the top five were all Asian countries: India, South Korea, Pakistan, China, and Singapore, with India expected to remain the largest importer for some time. The year 2011 also saw major arms deals signed in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

“I think the value of SIPRI’s arms transfers database and its data goes well beyond this [listing of top exporters and importers]” he concluded. “I stress that with our data, we also seek to highlight countries which don’t appear among the world’s largest arms importers, where there have been significant increases in the forms of imports, and where there are concerns for various reasons.”

With the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty scheduled for July, Mr. Holtom said the treaty “will make things more transparent. It will provide states an opportunity to hold each other to account.”

Tsutomu Kono spoke mostly about another instrument to monitor international arms transfers, the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which requires member states to self-report on military holdings and expenditures.

Lack of reporting and knowledge about the process is an issue, he said. “We have been encouraging member states to participate in this instrument… our challenge here is to raise awareness of the instrument. Because many people say, ‘The UN has some kind of instrument to report military expenditure or arms trade?’ Very few delegates know you have a deadline, May 31st for the register and April 30th for the expenditure.” He said that only 24 of 193 states reported military holdings last year.

Abdullah Alsaidi, who served as Yemen’s Permanent Representative to the UN until quitting last year in response to the armed crackdown on protestors in the country, spoke about SIPRI’s report in the context of the Arab uprisings. He said that, “to a large degree, these revolutions were revolutions of expectations, economic deprivation is a factor, so how will these new regimes… are they going to squander a lot of precious resources on armaments?”

“The question then is how to balance, how to find the equilibrium between the needs of the people, construction of the infrastructure and to continue with importing arms?”

He said in the past, the Arab-Israeli conflict had served as an excuse for militaries to buy weapons for themselves, saying that “If the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved in a just manner, how will it affect the import of weapons? Because you deprive these regimes of an excuse to buy all these.”

In the future, he said, “Much of the money spent on buying armaments can be spent on alleviating poverty.” Providing the example of Saudi Arabia, he said, “It is shocking that Saudi Arabia has 25-30% unemployment among youth. 600,000 people join the job market every year. So when you think of the biggest Arab economy, and yet it has 25-30% unemployment among its youth, I believe that some of this money could be used to alleviate some of the difficulties they have there.”

Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Executive Director of SIPRI North America, provided opening remarks.

Moderating the event was Ambassador Maureen Quinn, IPI Senior Adviser.

Listen to Global Observatory interview with Paul Holtom >>

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