Wendela de Vries
Of the global top 20 arms producers, 4 European companies are ranked in high positions. Leading is British BAE Systems (former British Aerospace). The Swedish peace research institute SIPRI even ranked BAE Systems as the biggest global arms producer in 2008, but US weekly Defence News, using another ranking system, is listing BAE Systems third after the American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Besides BAE the three other European giants are Italy’s Finmeccanica and formally Dutch-based EADS, both mainly aeronautical companies, and French electronics company Thales. The output of these giants is bigger than the output of many a developing nation. They arose from the mid-1990’s in a process of mergers and acquisitions, when international (notably American) competition forced European defence companies to overcome national limits in order to survive. At that time a lot of state-owned defence companies were privatised, facilitating the accumulation process. Still national governments often kept a say in their defence industries: Finmeccanica is 30% state-owned, Thales is 27% French state-owned and EADS is partly French state and a Spanish state holding company-owned. Note that, in contrast, BAE Systems is private, although the company can count on strong government support, including export promotion, sales financing and even covering up of high-level corruption.