America Sold $40 Billion Worth of Weapons to Other Countries Last Year

President Obama hosts the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit on May 14, 2015 at Camp David with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman (Photo by Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images)
President Obama hosts the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit on May 14, 2015 at Camp David with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman (Photo by Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images)

The United States loves selling weapons to foreign governments. We really, really love it. Like, $40 billion in love.


A new government report based on unclassified data has helped elaborate on that love. The report, produced by the Congressional Research Service, explains that America is by far the largest arms dealer in the world. The United States sold roughly $40 billion worth of weapons in 2015, representing roughly half of all military weapons sold around the world. The second closest competitor was France, which sold a measly $15 billion.

Qatar was the single largest purchaser of weapons in the developing world, allocating $17.5 billion for weapons. Egypt came in second, spending $11.9 billion, with Saudi Arabia in third, forking over $8.6 billion on conventional weapons.


The types of conventional weapons counted in the report are everything from tanks and supersonic aircraft to submarines and missiles. The list below breaks down the top 10 weapons suppliers in the world and how much they raked in during 2015.

Arms transfer agreements with the world in 2015

  1. United States: $40.1 billion
  2. France: 15.3 billion
  3. Russia: $11.1 billion
  4. China: $6 billion
  5. Sweden: $1.5 billion
  6. Italy: $1 billion
  7. Germany: $900 million
  8. Turkey: $800 million
  9. UK: $700 million
  10. Israel: $700 million

The global weapons trade was actually down in 2015 compared with 2014, leading to some interesting observations on the part of the authors of the report. Some weapons suppliers have been struggling to get developing countries with weak economies to spend, so weapons manufacturers in the United States been offering things like flexible financing options—not unlike a use car salesperson or a subprime mortgage lender.

“To overcome the key obstacle of limited defense budgets in several developing nations, arms suppliers have increasingly utilized flexible financing options, and guarantees of counter-trade, co-production, licensed production, and co-assembly elements in their contracts to secure new orders,” the report said.

The report also notes that richer countries in the Persian Gulf and India have been able to demand better terms and more advanced weapons technologies on account of the relatively shrinking market for weapons in developing nations.


“The more affluent developing nations have been leveraging their attractiveness as clients by demanding greater cost offsets in their arms contracts, as well as transfer of more advanced technology and provisions for domestic production options,” the report explains.

And it wouldn’t be a report on US military interests without mention of Iran. Specifically, the report notes that sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were robust—two countries which are “both pivotal partners in the U.S. effort to contain Iran.”


Donald Trump often held up a sign during the US presidential campaign purporting to show how much money the Clinton Foundation was raking in as a quid pro quo for arms sales to various countries. But if you take even a second to think about the amount of money that changes hands in these deals, it’s hard to believe that donations to the Clinton Foundation were even a drop in the bucket.

With or without the Clintons, the United States simply loves selling weapons. $40 billion worth every year, in fact. And it’s unlikely that this will change with the incoming administration. Unless President Trump decides that our economy can take a $40 billion per year hit.


[Congressional Research Service via CNBC]

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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Lets put that in perspective....

GDP for 2015 was 17.9 Trillion Dollars. So 40 Billion Dollars was 00.2% of our total economic output.

The weapons of financial destruction that are our banks represent 7-8% of our economy at 1.29 Trillion dollars.

As an arms dealer, it makes up a surprisingly small bit of our economy, far less than you would think when you want to picture the US as a global force for evil peddling its weapons to various nations to start wars and destabilise the world because the US is evil.. EVIL I tells yah!

But that’s not the case at all. Most of our weapons sales goes to allies who are not generally starting wars or destabilisng the globe. There are a few examples our ouw customer’s who perhaps we shouldn’t be selling to but we do to keep them within our fold and outside the realm of ifluence of other nation states that do have less altruistic governments and geo-political goals.

FAR more reflective of the nature of weapons deals to the health of an economy (we could easily drop 40 billion from our economy and barely see a blip... again, 00.2%) but lets look at your list again:

United States: $40.1 billion —— 00.2% of their GDP in weapons sales.

France: 15.3 billion —- 00.6% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Russia: $11.1 billion —- 00.8% of their GDP in weapons sales.

China: $6 billion —- 00.05% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Sweden: $1.5 billion — 00.3% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Italy: $1 billion — 00.05% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Germany: $900 million —- 00.02% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Turkey: $800 million —- 00.1% of their GDP in weapons sales.

UK: $700 million —- 00.03% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Israel: $700 million — 00.2% of their GDP in weapons sales.

Ranking weapons dealers in order of the importance to their economy would put Russia at #1, Followed by France at #2, and Sweden at #3. In ALL cases though international arms sales are less than a single percentage point of their GDP.

Mind you, I am a progressive liberal type and would prefer a world without international arms sales etc.

I do believe though, its important to understand the total picture of things and too often when human beings try to contemplate economic figures/output they are too limited in their understanding of the scale of our economies and so they see 40 Billion and think OMG! So much money! (Especially when median household income is just under 52 thousand dollars.)

But ts not, its a mere pittance.

This is also why I get upset listening to both sides of our political spectrum’s hoi paloi griping about many things with price tags affixed to them at a governmental level.

Human beings are remarkably bad at understanding giant numbers. We are not equipped for it and have a hard time even conceiving of a comparison for these figures at what they might represent.

Its why I used to send out a little blurb to my co-workers when the powerball would hit a certain amount and people would start talking about a company pool etc (and I did participate because cost of entry, for me, was quite low and I knew my odds were tremendously not in my favour, but it was enjoyable to spend the 15 minutes contemplating what you would do with your share) putting in perspective the current odds by giving them something to picture so how impossible these odds would be put into a more human frame of reference.

For example, Pick a card, any card... except the stack of cards, (presuming .5 inches for 52 cards) is 54.5 Empire State Buildings tall.

or... OK, all you need to do is pick a single baseball out of a pile of baseballs, except the pile of baseballs fills two of the Metrodomes which have been completely gutted.

Mind you this was when the odds were significantly better than the current powerball/Megamillion jackpots. And you should note that with the current jackpot odds for powerball are 1 in 292,201,338. Thats just _millions_. Our economy is measured in trillions at this point.

40 Billion is NOTHING in the scale of our economy.