Countries Buying the Most Weapons From the US Government
The U.S. government sent nearly $10 billion worth of military vehicles and weapons systems to foreign governments last year. The United States is easily the largest exporter of arms in the world, surpassing other producers such as Russia and China by billions of dollars each year.
In the past five years, more than 100 nations have directly purchased aircraft, ships, armored vehicles, and missiles from the U.S. government. When excluding those nations that are not under international embargo, relatively few countries are left out of American arms deals. A few others, however, receive a disproportionately large share of American weapons. Thirteen countries accounted for almost 70% of U.S. 2016 arms exports. Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. partner in the Middle East, received almost 20% of total U.S. weapons exports.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $307 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $330 million
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 93.0%
> 2015 GDP: $4.8 trillion
A number of Southeast Asian nations have recently ramped up military expenditure and arms imports due to growing concern about China’s military development in the South China Sea. China has constructed a number of artificial islands, and is building on them what appear to be military bases with possible long-range surface-to-air missile capabilities. Another dispute between Japan and China over a group of islands in the East China Sea is causing additional tension. Despite the increased tension, Japan’s arms imports last year of $330 million were down from the previous year.
Over the last 10 years, Japan has imported over $4 billion in arms, 93% of which came from the United States. More than half the nation’s total weapons systems imports are in the form of military aircraft. Until 2015, the United States banned Japan from exporting weapons systems, a remnant of post-World War II policy. The long absence of a private arms industry in the country partially explains Japan’s current level of U.S. arms imports.
8. South Korea
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $501 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $1.3 billion
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 37.6%
> 2015 GDP: $1.9 trillion
South Korea is situated in an especially volatile and potentially dangerous part of the world. The country is separated from North Korea, its nuclear-armed, antagonistic neighbor to the north, by a demilitarized zone. South Korea has a policy of mandatory military service and has spent more on weapons systems in the past decade than all but a handful of other countries. Since 2007, South Korea has bought an estimated $10.7 billion in weapons from a range of countries, including France, Germany, Israel, and the United States.
Historically, the East Asian nation has imported most of its weapons from the United States. However, last year marked a departure from the trend. Only 37.6% of South Korea’s total arms imports came from the United States, nearly the smallest share in the last 10 years and well below the decade-high share of 95.2% in 2010. The majority of South Korea’s weapon imports last year came from Germany.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $511 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $868 million
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 58.9%
> 2015 GDP: $2.2 trillion
Unlike many countries on this list, Italy has significant domestic weapons manufacturing capabilities. Leonardo, a Rome-based company formerly known as Finmeccanica, develops helicopters, fighter jets, and defense systems. The company sold $9.3 billion worth of arms in 2015 alone. Still, Italy imported hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military aircraft and sea vessels in 2016, in addition to about $23 million worth of missiles.
Italy’s weapons imports hit record highs in 2016. All told, the Mediterranean country bought $868 million in weapons from foreign governments in 2016, versus the next highest annual expenditure of $525 billion in 2007. The majority of weapons systems the country imported last year came from the United States.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $526 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $607 million
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 86.7%
> 2015 GDP: $285 billion
A Middle Eastern country under near constant threat of terrorist attacks and armed conflict, Israel is one of only a few states with compulsory military service. In addition, the country spends about 5.4% of its GDP on defense, a larger share than all but a handful of other countries. American arms manufacturers are some of the biggest beneficiaries of Israeli defense spending. Israel bought some $526 million worth of arms and weapons systems from the U.S. in 2016 alone.
Israel is one of only a few countries on this list to have a significant domestic defense and weapons industry. The country is home to defense electronics company Elbit Systems, which reported $2.95 billion in arms sales in 2015, and to Israel Aerospace Industries, which reported $2.78 billion in 2015 arms sales. Each company ranks among the 35 largest companies in the world by arms revenue.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $595 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $901 million
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 66.0%
> 2015 GDP: $329.7 billion
The Middle East is one of the most dangerous and unstable regions in the world today. As a result, many MIddle Eastern countries without much of a defense industry of their own purchase weapons and defense systems from foreign countries. Qatar is one such country. The nation spent $901 million on weapons in 2016, the majority of which it bought from the U.S.
Qatar is an important strategic U.S. ally in the region. The Al Udeid Air Base, located just outside of the capital city of Doha, currently hosts some 10,000 U.S. troops, effectively making it the largest U.S. base in the Middle East.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $773 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $1.3 billion
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 60.5%
> 2015 GDP: $644 billion
The United Arab Emirates is one of several Middle Eastern nations to rank among the U.S. government’s biggest weapons customers. The country bought some $773 million worth of weapons from the United States in 2016, more than from any other country. The UAE’s next largest weapons dealer was France, which sold the country some $336 million in weapons in 2016.
Missiles and air defense systems comprised the largest defense purchases the UAE made from foreign governments last year, at $554 million and $250 million respectively. Naval vessels were the country’s third largest arms import cost at $209 billion. The country has a substantial coastline along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $869 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $1.1 billion
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 82.0%
> 2015 GDP: $1.1 trillion
Australia bought more weapons from the United States last year than any other country outside of the Middle East. The vast majority of Australia’s 2016 arms imports were aircraft and missiles. The United States supplied over 80% of these weapons systems, accounting for $869 million of the country’s total weapons imports. Meanwhile, Italy and France each sold Australia $80 million worth of weapons, and Germany accounted for an additional $32 million of the country’s military spending.
Australia is home to one of the world’s 100 largest defense contractors by revenue. Austel, a shipbuilding company, reported $980 million in arms revenue alone in 2015.
> 2016 arms imports from U.S.: $893 million
> 2016 total arms imports: $1.7 billion
> U.S. as % total arms imports: 51.5%
> 2015 GDP: $534 billion
The militaries of few countries are as dependent on the U.S. government as Iraq’s. Since U.S. troops toppled the Iraqi government in 2003, the country has been in a near-perpetual state of disorder. Currently, the Iraqi military, under the guidance of U.S. advisors, is fighting to free parts of northern Iraq from Islamic State control. A major battle is currently underway for the city of Mosul.
Iraq is a major buyer of American weapons. The country imported $893 million worth of U.S. weapons and defense systems in 2016, the second highest sum of any country in the world. Iraqi weapon imports do not come close to the total amount spent by the U.S. in Iraq in recent years. Some estimates put total DoD and State Department spending in Iraq since 2001 at over $800 billion.