Google recently launched a project to map out the flow of small arms, light weapons and ammunition transfers in and out of countries around the world. The result: An interactive visualization that lets the user examine the history of arms trading between 1992 and 2010.
The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a Norwegian initiative focused on the dealing of small arms, provided information for the undertaking, including "[m]ore than 1 million data points on imports and exports [...] across 250 states and territories," according to a post on the Google Blog. The project was developed by Google’s Creative Lab and the Brazil-based Igarape Institute.
The tool allows the user to search by country and view where imports come from and where exports go each year; it also shows how much each country spends and receives as a result of this trade. Civilian and military purchases are displayed as well. (Note: The Google Blog defines "light weapons" as revolvers, assault rifles and light machine guns. The blog also states that "three quarters of the world’s small arms lie in the hand of civilians -- more than 650 million civilian arms.")
Looking only at the United States, we can see that in 1992 the amount of small arms and ammo imported ($272 million) and exported ($455 million) pale in comparison to 2010's figures ($955 million imported; $606 million exported). Forbes examined the United States' traffic flow of small arms and noticed that "[o]ver half a billion of those [import] dollars went to civilian weapons. [...] Among the exporters that stand out, $151 millions dollars worth came from Brazil, $45 million from Republic of Korea, $92 million from the Russian Federation, $46 million from Israel."
However, the global figures aren't perfect. The Igarape Institute points out in a PDF (viewable here) that the dataset used to produce this visualization is incomplete. Among some of the limitations listed are the following:
[L]arge producing countries frequently censor reporting on military style light weapons and small arms while other less developed countries may lack the capacity to monitor and record all arms shipments. It is possible to assess the transparency of country reporting at small arms survey barometer. [...] Due to weak or non-existent reporting, the MAD visualization tool provides an incomplete assessment of overall flows of small arms, light weapons and ammunition. For example, countries such as China, North Korea, and the Republic of Iran along with most of Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are extremely weak in reporting.
Igarape also states that the data does not reflect illegal transfers or re-transfers.
Earlier this summer, Google announced a plan to take on Mexico's drug cartels by working to improve the way information is shared between communities and various law enforcement agencies fighting the illicit networks.
You can check out Google's visualization tool of the small arms trade, here.