2020 Arms Sales Risk Index

Summary of Study

Bottom line: The Arms Sales Risk Index indicates that the U.S. has pursued increasingly risky arms sales to other nations under President Trump, while also selling more weapons than before. The U.S. should ban the selling of arms to risky nations where the risks outweigh the benefits. Congress should also approve all arms sales to provide a check on selling to risky nations.

The Arms Sales Risk index measures actors linked to negative outcomes of arms sales, including dispersion, diversion, and the misuse of weapons by recipients, to help policymakers decide which nations can be trusted with American weapon sales. The negative outcomes of risky arms sales include corruption, instability, domestic human rights, and conflict.

Under the Bush administration, the average risk score of American arms sales customers was 37. Under the Obama administration, it was 39. And under the Trump administration, it has risen to 41. The U.S. does not adequately consider these risks before sale. President Trump has overcome Congress's efforts to limit these sales.

Arms sales are not only growing in risk but also in sheer number.  The U.S. is the world's leading exporter of conventional weapons.\, with about $85 billion in sales in 2019.

According to the Arms Sales Risk Index, 61 countries have pursued riskier arms sales since 2018, with 30 becoming significantly riskier and 12 experiencing a double-digit increase in their risk scores. Five countries maintained the same risk profile and 117 got less risky. Given the long lifespans of weapons, tracking and considering how arms sales risks change over time is critical.

The U.S. makes up 36% of global arms sold over the past five years and has an average arms sales risk of 40. This risk score puts the U.S. in the middle of the biggest arms-dealing nations. China sells to the riskiest customer base, with an average customer risk score of nearly 70. In contrast, the Netherlands sells to a less risky customer base with an average score of 16.

The U.S. should incorporate the riskiness of arms sales in its future arms dealing policy. The easiest step in this direction would be to simply stop selling to the riskiest nations that score in the bottom of the risk index metrics. Such a policy could safeguard weapons systems and make the world safer.

A second useful step is getting Congress to approve all arms sales, rather than the status quo where Congress can only vote down sales. Requiring such congressional approval can help ensure that the benefits of arms sales outweigh the risks. 

Read the full study HERE

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Average Customer Risk Scores for Leading Arms Exporters, 2020

Cato

Findings:

  • The U.S. makes up 36% of global arms sold over the past five years and has an average arms sales risk of 40, putting it in the middle of arms-dealing nations. 
  • China sells to the riskiest customer base, with an average customer risk score of nearly 70. In contrast, the Netherlands sells to a less risky customer base with an average score of 16. 
  • The U.S. should ban the selling of arms to risky nations where the risks outweigh the benefits and get Congress to approve arms sales. 

Read the full study HERE