WASHINGTON - The United States maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006, followed by Russia and Britain, according to a Congressional study to be released Monday. Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers.
The global arms market is highly competitive, with manufacturing nations seeking both to increase profits and to expand political influence through weapons sales to developing nations, which reached nearly $28.8 billion in 2006.
That sales total was a slight drop from the 2005 figure of $31.8 billion, a trend explained by the strain of rising fuel prices that prompted many developing states - except those that produce oil - to choose upgrading current arsenals over buying new weapons.
The report, "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations," was produced by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, and presents a number of interesting observations linking arms sales and global politics. For example, Russia has been a major supplier of weapons to Iran in past years, including a $700 million deal for surface-to-air missiles in 2005.
But anxieties over Iran's nuclear program can be seen as having deterred Moscow from concluding significant new conventional arms deals with Iran in 2006, deals that could be viewed as overly provocative while the Security Council debates new sanctions on Iran.
At the same time, though, Russia continues to nurture an arms-trade relationship that is deeply disturbing to the Bush administration, by signing weapons deals with oil-rich Venezuela and its anti-American leader, Hugo Chávez.
The Russian agreements with Venezuela in 2006 included the sale of two dozen Su-30 fighter jets valued at more than $1 billion, along with attack and transport helicopters valued at more than $700 million.
Russia also sold Venezuela a large number of AK-series assault rifles in a deal that included a pledge to build a factory in Venezuela to produce those rifles and ammunition, together valued at more than $500 million.
"Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chávez, has taken a hostile approach to relations with the United States in recent years," wrote Richard F. Grimmett, a specialist in national defense at the Congressional Research Service.
"Thus his decision to seek advanced military equipment from Russia is a matter of U.S. concern," Mr. Grimmett wrote in the report. "Chávez appears embarked on an effort to make Venezuela an important military force in Latin America."
The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.
The announcement of major new arms agreements with Pakistan last year renewed debate over whether the Bush administration was elevating its counterterrorism priorities above its pledge to spread democracy around the world.
Pakistan was a major recipient of American arms sales in 2006, including the $1.4 billion purchase of 36 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft and $640 million in missiles and bombs. The deal included a package for $890 million in upgrades for Pakistan's older versions of the F-16.
At the same time, the State Department's own survey of global human rights in 2006 noted a variety of shortcomings in Pakistan's record on human rights and democratization.
But the Bush administration has argued that it is important to maintain the support of a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the broader counterterrorism fight, in particular as Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders regroup in the rugged North-West Frontier Province along the Afghan border.
In 2006, the United States agreed to sell $10.3 billion in weapons to the developing world, or 35.8 percent of these deals worldwide, according to the study. Russia was second with $8.1 billion, or 28.1 percent, and Britain was third with $3.1 billion, or 10.8 percent.
Pakistan concluded $5.1 billion in agreements to buy arms in 2006. That total was followed by India with $3.5 billion in agreements and Saudi Arabia with $3.2 billion in deals.
The combined value of arms sales worldwide to both developed and developing nations in 2006 reached $40.3 billion, a decline of nearly 13 percent from 2005.
When combining totals for arms sales to developed and developing nations, the ranking of world arms dealers remained the same. The United States led with $16.9 billion, followed by Russia with $8.7 billion and Britain with $3.1 billion. The 2006 sales figures for all three nations were higher than their totals in 2005.
China plays an interesting role in the arms market, being both a purchaser of advanced air and naval weapons, from Russia, and as a supplier of less-expensive arms to developing nations.
Mr. Grimmett's study uses figures in 2006 dollars, with amounts for previous years adjusted for inflation, to give a constant financial measurement.
© 2007 The New York Times