Navigating New Realities: Implications Of Evolving World Order On Global Arms Trade – OpEd


With the technological innovation in this changing world order, the global arms trade has become a crucial issue that affects international security and stability. The global arms trade has witnessed a surge. This trade involves a wide range of transactions and transfers of conventional weapons, such as launchers, tanks, combat planes, warships, small arms, and missiles.

The conventional practice of the global arms trade among nation-states has been bolstered over time by security threats. This market of arms trade is the main concern for global peace and stability, as weapons are being deployed in some of the world’s most volatile conflict zones and consequently exacerbating the ongoing conflicts. Except for the few independent arms producer, many state actors are dependent on imports for their defense needs. This is consequent into the global rise in defense spending and international arms transfers to other defense-which led to the defense global peace and stability. The global arms trade market is solely influenced by the supply and demand of arms capabilities by state actors. Currently, two main variants are shaping this supply and demand of arms trade at a global level: changing world order and the advancement of sophisticated technology.

Shifting Tides and the Emergence of New Actors

The arms race has continued to grow as a result of the conflicting geopolitical interests of numerous rising political entities on a worldwide scale. The transformative effect of multipolarity is instigated by emerging technologies and their military applications for achieving wider policy objectives. There is a deep connection between varying trends of world order andthe international arms trade, as shifts in power politics lead to security threats that deeply influence the ammunition exchanges between states. The proliferation of actors on the global stage and the corresponding shifts in power dynamics within numerous fields are the most pressing impacts on these dynamics.

 More in particular the redistribution of power capabilities patterns-evident in the stretching influence of China , the resurgence of Russia, the changing security architecture of Middle East, and Indian desires to become regional power showcasing shifting tides in global politics-economic patterns, are explicitly challenges the US global supremacy.

With the rise of multiple actors-the global order in transition has provided an array of opportunities for arm market to boost, and it has pushed the states to enhance their arms trade in an unpredicted security environment.

The Quest for Security Boosting Supply-Chain Demands:

It  is equally crucial to understand that for many arms exporting states, arms exports are seen as a vital tool of foreign policy, especially for major powers such as the United States, Russia, and China, who regularly utilise arms exports to shore up foreign strategic interests. Astonishingly, the five largest suppliers of arms the United States, Russia, France and China, holding veto power; the status of these countries as both major arms exporters and possessors of veto power within the UNSC adds a layer of complexity to the arms trade landscape.

Keeping the political economy of the arms trade in perspective, there is an unprecedented increase in its supply and demand. The evolution of new political and economic actors have dire implications for these dynamics of arms trade. State and non-state actors in the region are getting more involved in arms purchases, either in response to the security threats from proximate state conflicts or having hegemonic interests in their respective regions. Subsequently, the geopolitical rivalry and strategic competition among the major powers is causing more insecurities- pushing states to arm race. According to the SIPRI Yearbook 2023, the global military expenditure of state actors was estimated at around $2240 billion in 2022.

The  increased friction between great powers, significantly the US and China, has put American hegemonic strategy in jeopardy. Consequently, in pursuance of its strategic interests, the United States of America can compromise its commitments to domestic fulfilments through further liberalizing the preoccupied permissive arms transfer posture.This objective is being pursued by the incremental military expenditures by the states. US armaments exports, which made up 40% of the total worldwide in 2018–22. In this context, the eminent security threats including the emerging bloc politics, in the form of  alliance making by the USA to counter the Chinese threat, is inflicting security dilemma among smaller states. China’s military spending has risen for the past 28 years in a row. China has become the world’s second highest military spender, with  $292 billion spent in 2022. This rising animosity is leading to an arms race in technological revolution  bringing a new set of challenges each passing day. The US adventures in the proclaimed region of Indo-Pacific manifest the motives behind the intensified supply-demand dynamics of ammunitions. As a potential  US ally, India is manifesting its posture to become a hegemon in the South Asia. For this, India’s military budget was the fourth largest in the world, at $81.4 billion which was 6.0% higher than in 2021.

Technological Headway Fueling the Core Demands of Arms Trade

In technological realm, CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) and Sciences Act (2022) under Biden’s administration exclusively designed to curb China’s access to sophisticated semiconductors’ structures and its policy objective of becoming AI lead by 2030 represents the new wave of tech war between these two giant powers.

Based on these speculations, the future of global arms trade seems to take boom in the unpredicted environment of security threats. In the face of complex security dilemma, the states are entangled in a contradictory relationship-marked by vulnerability-invulnerability paradox from their prospective enemies. It is manifested in the case of eastern and Western Europe states which are perceiving security threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Especially in the post-Russian invasion of Ukraine had multiplied the threat perception of smaller States, which surely is affecting the patterns of the arms trade. The increased trends of dual usage import and exports, which ambiguously pertains to the military usage of emerging technologies are further exacerbating the quest for an arms buildup. State insecurities are demanding the purchase of such technologies and are equally prompted by the cheap availability of tech by China especially to European states.

 There is a need to address the issue associated with global trade which compels states towards arms purchases and their increased reliance on military solutions to cater to all challenges. It is critical to manage the flow of armaments and reduce warfare capabilities- particularly that of hegemonic states. It can be done by robust enforcement of existing legislation prohibiting transfers to governments engaged in systematic patterns of human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war. Since these factors promote market dynamics for arms all over the world, an effective solution to prevent the spread of arms would need a complex and multilateral effort by states to address both superfluous production and demand for arms. 

Sonia Bashir

Sonia Bashir is an independent researcher with an academic background in International Relations. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Strategic Studies. Her primary area of interest centers around the analysis of the history of international relations, international security, and geopolitics.

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