The Taliban just received the largest international weapons transfer in 50 years

The judgments behind the chart offer little basis for doubting the chart’s topline conclusion. Though data from the Stockholm database for the value of weapons transferred within Afghanistan amid the U.S. withdrawal are not yet available, estimates reported range from around $10 billion to $90 billion. The Washington Post’s modest estimate of $24 billion implies the Taliban received weapons valued at 124 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. But even the low-end estimate of $10 billion implies a value of 50.4 percent, which would render it the biggest weapons transfer since 1973 rather than 1960. The calculation for Afghanistan in 2021 also uses the country’s GDP from 2019, the last year of data now available from the World Bank. This likely leads the chart to understate weapons transfers as a share of the local economy for Afghanistan in 2021: The economic collapse set to follow America’s withdrawal will likely reduce GDP significantly. Statistically, then, it’s safe to say that the Afghanistan governed by the Taliban just received, relative to its economy, the largest arms transfer the world has witnessed in decades.

If the subsequent histories of the cases that dot the chart offer any prologue, the question now is what armed conflict the American-made arms will be used in rather than whether they’ll be used. India’s fears about regional violence may be well grounded: Some cases augured eras of regional violence that spilled across international borders. The post-1960 record holder, Syria in 1973, was involved in the onset of the Yom Kippur War that started that same year. The “runner-up” in the data, Eritrea in 1998, initiated a brutal war with Ethiopia that lasted until 2018. Others correspond to conflicts that mark the onset of civil wars that, like demons trapped inside a set of borders, haunt countries for decades. Arms shipments to the Houthi rebels, who keep Yemen’s civil war in the headlines even today, led Yemen to the top of the list as early as 1995. Deemed the world’s “most failed” state by The Economist in 2015, Somalia topped the list as early as 1976.