July 2, 2012: The U.S. had record ($60 billion) arms exports last year. Back in 2005, these exports amounted to only $12 billion. But fear of Iranian aggression (and nuclear weapons) and the growing Chinese threat has caused many nations to seek out the best weapons available and lots of them. These purchases tend to be American. For the rest of the decade annual sales are expected to be about $30 billion.
All this is a continuation of a long trend in which the U.S. is the leading arms exporter. Currently the next largest exporters are Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy. The sharp growth in arms exports is largely because in the past decade global defense spending has increased nearly 50 percent to over $1.4 trillion. That's about 2.5 percent of global GDP. After the Cold War ended (in 1991) defense spending declined for a few years to under a trillion dollars a year. But by the end of the 1990s it was on the rise again. The region with the greatest growth has been the Middle East, where spending has increased 62 percent in the last decade. The region with the lowest growth (six percent) was Western Europe. The current recession may get global defense spending stalled at, or maybe even a little below, $1.4 trillion for a year or two. But the spending growth has resumed now that the recession is over in many parts of the world.