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Authorized Trade

In 2012, the Small Arms Survey completed a multi-year comprehensive review of the authorized trade in small arms, light weapons, and their parts, accessories, and ammunition.  This review was conducted in four phases, each of which focused on a discrete set of material. The 2009 Small Arms Survey examined the trade in firearms: pistols, revolvers, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns. Ammunition for small arms and light weapons is assessed in the 2010 edition. The 2011 edition examined the trade in light weapons, including portable guided missiles and launchers (such as anti-tank weapons and man-portable air-defence systems, or MANPADS); portable rocket launchers; mortars up to and including calibres of 120 mm; recoilless rifles and guns; and hand-held, under-barrel, and automatic grenade launchers. In the 2012 edition the Survey evaluated international transfers of parts and accessories and reviewed findings from previous years. 

The Survey's analysis consists of a thorough examination of data published by governments and is supplemented by field research, interviews with key officials, and information collected at arms shows. Peer-reviewed methodologies have been developed to extrapolate from limited data and assess the value of unreported authorized transfers. Through this process, the Small Arms Survey has reviewed tens of thousands of records of arms transfers from customs data, national reports, government procurement documentation, and the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms; conducted dozens of interviews with government officials and industry executives; and has commissioned research on key geographic areas.

Based on this review, the Survey now estimates that authorized transfers of small arms, light weapons and their parts, accessories, and ammunition are worth at least USD 8.5 billion annually.  Ammunition for small arms and light weapons accounts for roughly half of this total (USD 4.266 billion), followed by small arms (USD 1.662 billion), parts (USD 1.428 billion), light weapons (USD 811 million), and accessories (USD 350 million). These figures do not include transfers of accessories other than weapon sights or parts for guided weapons and light weapons ammunition, data for which is sparse.  Assuming that the value of these transfers is significant, it is conceivable that the total value of the small arms trade could reach, or even exceed, USD 10 billion.  

Global trends

The 2014 edition of the Small Arms Survey reviewed a decade’s worth of available and comparable UN Comtrade data, as prepared by NISAT. The trend analysis revealed that the value of the global trade in small arms and light weapons almost doubled between 2001 and 2011 (from USD 2.38 billion to USD 4.634 billion; see Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Changes in the value of the global small arms trade based on UN Comtrade (USD billion*), 2001-2011


Notes: * All values are expressed in constant 2011 US dollars; all figures have been rounded to the nearest million.


As shown in Figure 2, the category of small arms ammunition saw the greatest increase—a hike of 205 per cent—between 2001 and 2011 (from USD 468 million to USD 1.427 billion). The rise in ammunition transfers thus accounts for a large portion (42.5 per cent) of the overall increase in the small arms trade since 2001.

Figure 2. Changes in traded values for six categories of small arms and light weapons based on UN Comtrade (USD million*), 2001–11

Notes: * All values are expressed in constant 2011 US dollars; all figures have been rounded to the nearest million.

Annual Export and Import Data

Each year, the Small Arms Survey further provides an update of annual authorized small arms and light weapons exports and imports by major exporter and importer (annual transfers of at least USD 10 million). These data are available for download below:

Small Arms Survey Publications

  • Trade Update 2016: Transfers and Transparency, by Irene Pavesi. June 2016.

    Download (4.71 MB)
  • Following the Thread: Arms and Ammunition Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan, by Jonah Leff and Emile LeBrun, May 2014. Working Paper No. 32. (Also in Arabic)

  • Small Arms of the Indian State: A Century of Procurement and Production, January 2014. India Armed Violence Assessment Issue Brief No. 4 (also available in Hindi).

  • Legacies of War in the Company of Peace: Firearms in Nepal, May 2013. Nepal Armed Violence Assessment Issue Brief No. 2 (also available in Nepali).

    Download (1007.57 KB)
  • Small Arms Transfers: Importing States, November 2011. Research Note No. 12, Weapons and Markets (also available in Catalan and Spanish).

    Download (245.05 KB)
  • Small Arms Transfers: Exporting States, October 2011. Research Note No. 11, Weapons and Markets (also available in Catalan and Spanish).

    Download (236.45 KB)
  • Scraping the Barrel: The Trade in Surplus Ammunition, April 2011. Issue Brief No. 2.

    Download (1.6 MB)
  • Skirting the Law: Post-CPA Arms Flows to Sudan, by Mike Lewis, September 2009. Working Paper No. 18 (also available in Arabic)

  • Trading Life, Trading Death: The Flow of Small Arms from Mozambique to Malawi, by Gregory Mthembu-Salter, January 2009. Working Paper No. 6

    Download (396.63 KB)
  • Buying the Bullet: Authorized Small Arms Ammunition Transfers, by  Anne-Kathrin Glatz, 2006. In Stéphanie Pézard and Holger Anders, eds. Targeting Ammunition: A Primer.

    Download (1.26 MB)
  • Targeting Ammunition: A Primer, edited by Stéphanie Pézard and Holger Anders, co-published with CICS, GRIP, SEESAC, and Viva Rio, June 2006.

    More information
  • Beyond the Kalashnikov: Small Arms Production, Exports, and Stockpiles in the Russian Federation, by Maxim Pyadushkin with Maria Haug and Anna Matveeva, August 2003. Occasional Paper No. 10

    Download (212.98 KB)
  • Making Global Public Policy: The Case of Small Arms and Light Weapons, by Edward Laurence and Rachel Stohl, December 2002. Occasional Paper No. 7

    Download (292.02 KB)
  • Small Arms Availability, Trade, and Impacts in the Republic of Congo, commissioned by IOM and the UNDP, by Spyros Demetriou, Robert Muggah and Ian Biddle, April 2002. Special Report No. 2

    Download (720.11 KB)
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Other Publications

  • Solmirano, Carina and Pieter D. Wezeman. 2010. Military Spending and Arms Procurement in the Gulf States. SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Fact Sheet. October. Stockholm: SIPRI. 

  • Karp, Aaron. 2006.  Escaping Reuterswärd’s shadow. Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 27, No. 1. April, pp. 12-28.

    More information
  • Schroeder, Matthew, Dan Smith, and Rachel Stohl. 2006. The Small Arms Trade: A Beginner's Guide. London: Oneworld Publications

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Further Resources

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