Arms are rolling into Europe. The Czech Republic stands out in terms of growth


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One of the main conclusions that emerges from this year’s release of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s report on the arms trade is the sharp increase in arms imports to Europe.

The institute reports that overall, between 2019 and 2023, 94% more weapons were imported into the old continent (excluding ammunition and “smaller” weapons) than between 2014 and 2018.

SIPRI explains this in particular by the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which was key to the resulting figure, although it only occurred halfway through the last five-year plan.

It should be added that the SIPRI European region includes Ukraine, Russia and countries that are more likely to be in the Central Asian region. However, the increase also significantly affects the majority of EU countries.

“It is not the only reason, but we can definitely say that the increase in the import of weapons to European countries is definitely related to developments in Ukraine. It started already in 2014, but we can see that over time it started to apply that the closer the state is to Russia, the more pressure it faces to increase orders,” said Pieter Wezeman, co-author of this year’s report, to Seznam Zprávám, according to whom the war for Central Europe is Ukraine’s main reason for the increase in arms imports.

“For example, Central European states can also draw on their own defense industries, but this only provides them with a limited number of weapons,” he pointed out.

You can see how imports have changed in individual countries in the following map:

* The institute uses five-year segments because it focuses on observing more stable trends, which can be lost in interannual fluctuations.

If we leave out the titular Luxembourg, Ukraine, unsurprisingly, stands out the most from the view of the map of the whole of Europe, where the import of large weapons increased by 6633%.

It is also not surprising that in her case the connection with the Russian invasion is absolutely obvious even from the overview of import sizes year by year:

Striking, but also expected, is the connection mentioned by Wezeman with the proximity to Russia. This is particularly evident in southern countries such as Italy, Greece or Spain – they are far from Russia and their imports have even fallen.

On the contrary, the dark red color of the Czech Republic on the map is certainly surprising for many, whose imports in the previous five years compared to the period 2014-18 increased by more than 3100%, which is the highest in all of Europe after Luxembourg, Ukraine and Slovenia.

However, more is needed to explain this number than just referring to Ukraine and Russia.

How did the Czech Republic find itself at the top of the ranking?

The Ministry of Defense confirmed to Seznam Zprávám the connection between the increase in arms imports to the Czech Republic and the war in Ukraine, and Wezeman also referred to it in the interview, but he added that when reading this number, the total values ​​of the imports themselves should also be kept in mind. In other words, he pointed out that although the percentage change in the amount of Czech imports may seem astronomical, the total volume of weapons delivered does not have to deviate in any way (this also applies to the mentioned Slovenia and even more so to Luxembourg).

The data on the total amount of weapons imported into Europe in the last five years also confirm that it really does not deviate. The Czech Republic was ranked 21st in this ranking.

The disparity between the ranking of the Czech Republic in the rankings of the percentage change in imports and its absolute size is due to the fact that the Czech Republic imported almost nothing between 2014 and 2018 and, of course, the fact that it is a relatively small country with a small army, which records large fluctuations (even one or two deliveries means a lot) even a low amount of absolute volume.

According to analyst Vojtěch Bahenský from the Institute of Political Studies of the FSV UK, the possibility of the Czech Republic buying from domestic production or the fact that the institute did not include in the overall data, for example, relatively significant deliveries of Spike anti-tank guided missiles in 2016 and Javelin in 2018, could also have played a role.

“When counting these two deals, the sum for the period 2014-2018 would be 15.5 TIV at once (TIV is the unit in which SIPRI calculates the size of arms deliveries – editor’s note) instead of the existing seven TIVs, and thus we would suddenly be on a growth of 1500%,” Bahenský told Seznam Zpravám, adding that in countries where there may be only one delivery per year, large fluctuations easily occur.

Jan Ludvík from the Department of Security Studies of the FSV UK added that the SIPRI methodology regarding the distribution of the share of orders from joint production by several countries could also have influenced the resulting number.

“It depends on how SIPRI counts projects like Titus and Pandur, which they classify as imports to the Czech Republic, but for the most part they are made by domestic industry today,” Ludvík said, adding that it is possible that these projects are counted as imports even though that most are not actually imported.

The Seznam Zprávám Institute confirmed that this really happened – for example, with the Titus armored vehicles, which the Czech Republic co-produced with France. For joint production, SIPRI distinguishes only large components separately and automatically classifies the rest as exports from the country that owns the license for the weapon system in question. For Titus cars, everything except the engines was counted as imports from France, which artificially increased the import of the last five years.

To sum it up, we can say that in the Czech Republic the import of weapons from abroad has really increased, which is not so shocking for smaller countries. The war in Ukraine certainly played a role in this (the SIPRI list, for example, registers 14 German Leopard 2A4s that the army received for the supply of armored vehicles to Ukraine), but it certainly did not cause the entire increase.

Acquisitions of military equipment take a long time, and a significant part of the institute’s registered weapons was already ordered before the invasion.

The amount of weapons imported into the Czech Republic in the last 10 years developed as follows:

Europe also maintained high exports

Among other interesting trends in Europe, SIPRI also mentions the increase in arms exports. In particular, France exported 47% more in the last five years, knocking Russia out of second place in the ranking of the largest global arms exporters (the USA is still sovereignly the first). The report also points to Italy, whose exports even increased by 86%.

The war in Ukraine and the associated movement of weapons across Europe certainly played a big role here, but SIPRI adds that the old continent accounted for about a third of global arms exports in the last five years, which also includes a large amount of goods traveling outside the region, which is proof that Europe has a strong military industry and position in the global market.


The world spends the most on weapons in history

Last in the list of major arms movement news regarding Europe are huge changes for Russia. Its exports have fallen by 53% over the past five years, and according to SIPRI, its market position among the world’s major exporters is likely to continue to weaken.

A detailed summary of defense budgets is still being finalized by SIPRI. According to Wezeman, this year, like the report on arms exports and imports, the report will be full of big changes and we can expect it in the second half of April.

Globally, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, global spending will increase by nine percent to a record $2.2 trillion in 2023.

The article is in Czech

Tags: Arms rolling Europe Czech Republic stands terms growth


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