The Cost of the U.S. Arms Trade

The global arms trade is big business and the United States accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s weapons exports. Aside from the profit motivation, selling arms abroad can be an effective foreign policy tool, allowing the United States to exert influence over conflict and security worldwide without having to put boots on the ground. But are the risks worth the reward?

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  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Director, Podcasting

Asher Ross - Supervising Producer

Markus Zakaria - Audio Producer and Sound Designer

Molly McAnany - Associate Podcast Producer

Episode Guests
  • Christa N. Almonte
    Military Fellow, U.S. Navy
  • William D. Hartung
    Senior Research Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
  • Rachel Stohl
    Vice President of Research Programs, Stimson Center

Show Notes

The United States is the world’s top arms exporter, with 2020 sales from leading U.S. producers reaching $285 billion. It’s a lucrative business, but arms trade is also part of Washington’s foreign policy: it’s used to support U.S. allies, as leverage in international agreements, and even to help one side over another during a conflict. In this episode, Why It Matters explores the global implications of arms trade, and the responsibilities and moral burdens that come with the United States’ outsize role. 










From CFR


Lauren Kahn, “A Refreshed Autonomous Weapons Policy Will Be Critical for U.S. Global Leadership Moving Forward,” Renewing America 


Rebecca Lissner, “The Future of Strategic Arms Control” 


U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Control



From Our Guests


Diana Ohlbaum and Rachel Stohl, “Yes, Congress, There Is Something You Can Do About Reckless Arms Sales,” Just Security


Rachel Stohl, “Improving U.S. Conventional Arms Policies,” Arms Control Association


William D. Hartung, “Bombs & Guns: Biden’s ‘Business as Usual’ Approach to U.S. Arms Sales,” Responsible Statecraft


William D. Hartung, “Promoting Stability or Fueling Conflict? The Impact of U.S. Arms Sales on National and Global Security,” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft


Read More


Connor Echols, “Where Are Our Weapons Going? U.S. Transparency Is Taking a Nosedive,” Responsible Statecraft


Andrew Feinstein, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Editorial Board, “Yemen Crisis Underlines a Shift in Arms Exports,” Financial Times



Watch and Listen


The Future of Arms Control, With Rose Gottemoeller,” The President’s Inbox


The Global Arms Trade: Assessing Trends and Future Outlook,” Stimson Center


The Real Harm of the Global Arms Trade | Samantha Nutt,” TED Talks Live 


Who Profits From the Global Arms Trade?,” Deutsche Welle

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