Data Sources and the Estimation of Military-owned Small Arms (Research Note 34)

Aaron Karp
Research Note

While the weapons of state armed forces are not the largest major category of small arms—worldwide there are around three civilian-owned firearms for each one held by militaries—they are a serious factor in conflict and violence, and the focus of much international diplomacy. Military-owned small arms also constitute the world’s largest centrally controlled stockpiles. They can be involved in massive transfers, and raise vital control issues.

Data Sources and the Estimation of Military-owned Small Arms, a Research Note by the Small Arms Survey, joins a series of Research Notes on estimations of civilian and law enforcement small arms holdings. Based on acknowledged holdings revealed by some governments, the Note describes the methods used to estimate the approximate total numbers of military-owned small arms for other countries.

Using these sources and methods, the Small Arms Survey has calculated that, worldwide, state militaries hold roughly 200 million small arms, out of a total of some 875 million firearms of all kinds.

Key findings of the Research Note include:

  • Just two countries (China and Russia) hold almost 25 per cent of the global total; and the top 20 countries hold 50 per cent;
  • Globally, military procurement of newly manufactured weapons outstrips destruction of surplus firearms;
  • A standardized international reporting system would be a great advance for global transparency and policy-making.

See also the Annexe with source data for selected countries

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Keywords: Military Data