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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a massive surge in military aid. In March, Congress approved $3.5 billion in funding for military supplies given to Ukraine for its defense, and the European Union has pledged more than $1 billion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, continues to press NATO to provide more weaponry for his army, which has proven to be surprisingly resilient against the heavily armed Russian forces.
Moving forward, the war in Ukraine is almost certain to kick off a new era of escalation across the continent, and possibly beyond. “All indications are that there will be higher demand for arms in Europe,” says Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks the global flow of major conventional weapons. “We’re seeing it already.”
Both the U.S. and Russia have a long history of providing weapons around the world. SIPRI’s data shows that the U.S. and Russia have led the world in arms transfers (including sales and gifts) over the past two decades. The charts below show the cumulative volume of those weapons and the recipients of the arms since 2000.
To track arms transfers, SIPRI uses a pricing system called trend-indicator value (TIV) that measures delivery volumes based on the capability of the weapons systems rather than the financial value of transactions. Over the entire 2000–2021 period, Ukraine received a total of just 182 TIV in major weapons imports, with the U.S. providing 55 of that sum.
In SIPRI’s most recent analysis, Wezeman and his colleagues compared the past five years (2017 through 2021) of arms transfers globally vs. the previous five-year period. The U.S. grew its market share and was easily No. 1, with 39% of all exports over the past five years versus 19% for Russia, which retained its place as the No. 2 arms provider to other countries despite a dip in exports. Two of Russia’s biggest markets for arms in past years, Vietnam and India, have recently begun to diversify the sources of their weapons imports, according to Wezeman. Big beneficiaries of that change: the U.S. and France.
China now has the second-largest military budget in the world behind the U.S. But it ranks No. 6 globally in arms exports over the past two decades, trailing not only the U.S. and Russia but also France, Germany, and the U.K. “For China, the number of large markets for weapons is limited,” says Wezeman. That’s because many countries in the region such as Australia, India, Japan, and South Korea consider China a military rival and prefer to do business with the U.S., France, or other providers. One big exception is Pakistan, the top recipient of Chinese weapons since 2000.
A version of this article appears in the April/May 2022 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Arms dealers to the world.”