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- The U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter, with 40% of the global share, easily ahead of Russia at 16%.
In a recent appearance in New Hampshire, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson said the U.S. is the world’s biggest arms exporter and sells widely to autocratic countries.
"So, when you look at most American aid over the last few decades, what do we mean by American aid to other countries?" Williamson said at a Nov. 7 event at a store in Manchester, New Hampshire. "The vast majority of it is military aid. And we sell arms to 60% of the world's autocrats. We are the world's largest arms exporters." The comments were captured by PolitiFact’s partner, WMUR-TV in New Hampshire.
She’s correct about the U.S. being the world’s largest arms exporter, and that the U.S. sells heavily to autocratic governments. (We are checking her statement about military aid as a share of U.S. foreign aid separately.)
In the breadth of its arms exports, the U.S. leads every other country.
Data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that from 2018 to 2022, the U.S. accounted for 40% of arms transfers globally. The next closest country was Russia, at 16%.
The U.S. share has been climbing. From 2013 to 2017, the U.S. accounted for 33% of global arms transfers. The three biggest importers of U.S. arms are Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia.
Williamson said 60% of the military aid goes to the world's autocrats, which appears to come from reporting in The Intercept, a left-leaning online publication. In May, it published a story that used federal data to calculate that, in 2022, the U.S. sold weapons to at least 57% of the world’s autocratic countries.
For its definitions, it relied on the Varieties of Democracy project at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, which classifies regimes in four categories: closed autocracy, electoral autocracy, electoral democracy, and liberal democracy. The Intercept found that of the 84 nations categorized as autocracies in 2022, the United States sold weapons to 57%. Among the biggest autocratic importers of U.S. arms in recent years have been Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
Using another classification system, the Freedom in the World report published by the human rights group Freedom House, produced a nearly identical result of 58%.
Williamson said, "We sell arms to 60% of the world's autocrats. We are the world's largest arms exporters."
The U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter, with 40% of the global share, easily ahead of Russia at 16%.
We rate the statement True.
Marianne Williamson, event in Manchester, N.H., Nov. 7, 2023 (video courtesy WMUR-TV)
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, "Trends in International Arms Transfers," March 2023
The Intercept, "Biden is Selling Weapons to the Majority of the World's Autocracies," May 11, 2023
Varieties of Democracy data set, accessed Nov. 13, 2023
Freedom House, Freedom in the World report, accessed Nov. 13, 2023
Email interview with retired Marine Corps Reserve Col. Mark Cancian, senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Nov. 10, 2023
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