Surging global weapons transfers are raising concerns about arms races in tension-fraught areas of the globe, a leading peace research group warned Monday.
New data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed that transfers of major conventional weapons rose by 22 percent in 2005-2009, compared to the previous five-year period.
The U.S. remains the biggest arms supplier, accounting for 30 percent of weapons exports, while China and India are the biggest importers of conventional weapons, SIPRI said. It added that Singapore and Algeria both made the top-10 list of major weapons importers for the first time.
SIPRI also said that Iran was the second-largest customer for China's arms industry over the past five years. Sales included more than 1,000 surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles, along with 50 infantry fighting vehicles, and accounted for 14 percent of China's arms exports by value during 2005-2009, according to SIPRI.
While none of the sales violated U.N. sanctions against Iran or other international agreements, they may reinforce perceptions that China's thriving economic relations with Iran are encouraging it to resist supporting a new round of sanctions against Tehran. The U.S. and other Western powers are seeking the measures to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Overall, China remains a relatively small player in global arms exports, which average around $380 million per year, compared to more than $7 billion for the U.S.
The institute, which uses five-year averages to spot trends in global arms transfers, said the latest data raise concerns about arms races brewing in volatile regions in the Middle East, North Africa, South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
"Resource-rich states have purchased a considerable quantity of expensive combat aircraft," Paul Holtom, director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, said in a statement. "Neighboring rivals have reacted to these acquisitions with orders of their own."
Combat aircraft accounted for 27 percent of the volume of international arms transfers in 2005-2009, SIPRI said. U.S. deliveries included 72 F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, 52 to Israel and 40 F-15 jets to South Korea.
Russia, the world's No. 2 weapons exporter, delivered 82 Sukhoi fighters to India, 28 to Algeria and 18 to Malaysia, SIPRI said. This year Russia is competing with European and U.S. suppliers for an Indian order of 126 combat aircraft.
Noting Vietnam's order of long-range combat aircraft and submarines in 2009, SIPRI said the current wave of weapons acquisitions in South Asia "could destabilize the region, jeopardizing decades of peace."
The SIPRI Arms Transfers Database includes major conventional weapons such as aircraft, armored vehicles, artillery, sensors, missiles, ships and air defense systems. Trucks, small arms, ammunition and most light weapons are not included.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.
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