There's an unexpected but not entirely surprising upside to a years-long global economic downturn. Governments don't buy as many guns and bombs. The world's largest weapons manufacturers just saw the first decline in sales since the mid-1990s. Collectively, the top 100 arms manufacturers in the world saw $410 billion in sales in 2011, a five percent decline from the year before. That's an upside if your a pacifist — less so if you're in the arms business.
The trend makes perfect sense not only because of the various recessions around the world but also due to the United States pulling out of Iran and Afghanistan. "Austerity policies and proposed and actual decreases in military expenditure as well as postponements in weapons programme procurement affected overall arms sales in North America and Western Europe," reported the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a think tank that just released a report on global arms sales. North America and Western Europe account for some 90 percent of defense spending at the companies reviewed. "The drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sanctions on arms transfers to Libya also played a role."
The less than good news is that as folks like the U.S., Japan and the European Union dial back their arms purchases, the weapons manufacturers turn to the Middle East, Latin America and Asia looking for new accounts. In other words, the guns and bombs aren't disappearing off the face of the planet. They're just being sent to new homes. The arms industry is also looking towards new fronts. The shifts in arms sales is matched by "a heightened interest" in cybersecurity products. Three of the world's largest arms companies — Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — have already made cybersecurity-related acquisitions.
Meanwhile, the governments that would buy cybersecurity weapons are actually getting interested in cybersecurity. During his State of the Union Address, Obama announced a new cybersecurity order which turned out to be a good move since somebody hacked the Emergency Alert System a few days later. Who knows what the hackers will do next, but at least we know we have a shield to protect ourselves. Unless they figure out how to launch missiles. In that case, we're sort of screwed.