Human rights and democratic arms transfers: rhetoric versus reality with different types of major weapon systems

Richard A I Johnson, Spencer L Willardson

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Since the height of the Cold War, the policies of major democratic arms suppliers have stated that human rights violations in the importing state affect their decision to export. After the Cold War, the focus on the importer's human rights record increase in exporter policies. We examine the arms transfer patterns of the four major democratic suppliers between 1976 and 2009 to determine empirically whether the patterns of transfers match policy. We argue that if practice matches policy, then democratic suppliers should not transfer weapons to states violating human rights. However, as global interests of these suppliers have shifted over time we condition our arguments by stating that if practice matches policy, then there still may be transfers of major weapon systems, but of types that are not as useful for violating human rights. We build on existing arms transfer literature by disaggregating exports based on weapons type. The ordered logits we run for each major democratic supplier from 1976-2009 show that the major democratic suppliers generally do not account for human rights violations in the importing state, with the one exception being the United States transfer of land weapon systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-464
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
Early online date21 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • arms suppliers
  • Cold War
  • human rights violations
  • arms transfer patterns
  • global interests
  • exports
  • weapon types

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