UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia increased by 175 per cent in the first nine months of 2017 according to an investigation by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Similarly, France and the US are major exporters of arms to the oil-rich Gulf state – in 2017 alone, they were worth around $2.6bn.
Selling weapons is a lucrative business. As well as the money to be made, the arms trade is also a barometer of the quality of relationships between states and it creates an interdependence that gives current and future recipient governments incentives to cooperate with arms suppliers.
Oil dependency is another reason. Sometimes this idea is disregarded as a conspiracy theory, but colleagues Claudio Deiana, Roberto Nisticò and I recently researched the extent to which oil-dependent countries transfer arms to oil-rich countries. It turns out it’s a lot.
The international transfer of weapons is one of the most dynamic and lucrative sectors of international trade. By one estimate, from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global transfers of major weapons have grown continuously since 2004 and between 2012 and 2016 reached its highest volume for any five-year period since the end of the Cold War. The value of the global arms trade in 2015 was at least $91.3bn, roughly equal to the GDP of Ukraine, or half of Greece’s GDP.