Global Arms Transfer Trends During the Reagan/Bush 41 Administrations

Sierra Rayne
The data interpretation problems at Vox.com are starting to add up. I've previously noted the incorrect diagnosis at Vox regarding Denver's crime rate trends over the past couple years. Patrick Brennan at National Review Online has an article highlighting some other concerns about Vox's objective analyses as well.

In one of its latest pieces, Zack Beauchamp at Vox purports to show how “America and Russia arm the world, in four charts.” The first figure (reproduced below) from Beauchamp's article was taken by Vox from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) website and shows the volume of international transfers of major weapons between 1950 and 2013. The bars are the actual annual data. Apparently the line is a five-year moving average.

 

The Vox interpretation of this graph is as follows: “arms distribution -- meaning both sales and pure military aid -- peaked during the Reagan Administration, collapsed after the Cold War, but have started creeping up since September 2001.”

There certainly isn't any debate about the “creeping up” of international transfers of major weapons since 2001, although the trend has been pretty much flat since 2007.

But this phrase is problematic: “peaked during the Reagan Administration, collapsed after the Cold War.” What do you mean “after”?

Historians generally agree the Cold War ended in 1991. Yes, technically the international transfers of major weapons did peak under Reagan's term, but very early on (i.e., 1981/82), after which they rapidly reversed the 20-year pre-Reagan increasing trend and subsequently “collapsed” under Reagan and the Bush 41 administration. What happened after the Cold War? Actually, not much. The international transfers of major weapons were fairly constant from 1992 to 1999.

The five-year moving average on this plot is also textbook example of poor statistical practice. It offers nothing but spurious insights due to the systematic lag behind the real trend changes.

In sum, the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations are responsible for all of the decline in the international transfers of major weapons during the past three decades, and all of this decline occurred prior to the end of the Cold War, not “after” as Vox claims.

The data interpretation problems at Vox.com are starting to add up. I've previously noted the incorrect diagnosis at Vox regarding Denver's crime rate trends over the past couple years. Patrick Brennan at National Review Online has an article highlighting some other concerns about Vox's objective analyses as well.

In one of its latest pieces, Zack Beauchamp at Vox purports to show how “America and Russia arm the world, in four charts.” The first figure (reproduced below) from Beauchamp's article was taken by Vox from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) website and shows the volume of international transfers of major weapons between 1950 and 2013. The bars are the actual annual data. Apparently the line is a five-year moving average.

 

The Vox interpretation of this graph is as follows: “arms distribution -- meaning both sales and pure military aid -- peaked during the Reagan Administration, collapsed after the Cold War, but have started creeping up since September 2001.”

There certainly isn't any debate about the “creeping up” of international transfers of major weapons since 2001, although the trend has been pretty much flat since 2007.

But this phrase is problematic: “peaked during the Reagan Administration, collapsed after the Cold War.” What do you mean “after”?

Historians generally agree the Cold War ended in 1991. Yes, technically the international transfers of major weapons did peak under Reagan's term, but very early on (i.e., 1981/82), after which they rapidly reversed the 20-year pre-Reagan increasing trend and subsequently “collapsed” under Reagan and the Bush 41 administration. What happened after the Cold War? Actually, not much. The international transfers of major weapons were fairly constant from 1992 to 1999.

The five-year moving average on this plot is also textbook example of poor statistical practice. It offers nothing but spurious insights due to the systematic lag behind the real trend changes.

In sum, the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations are responsible for all of the decline in the international transfers of major weapons during the past three decades, and all of this decline occurred prior to the end of the Cold War, not “after” as Vox claims.