Infographic: Google Visualizes The World’s Terrifying Arms Trade

Because seriously, what does anyone need with a billion dollars in guns?

Remember the old nuclear bomb projections? The Soviet Union nuked the US. The US nuked the Soviet Union. Of course, the Soviet Union saw the US nukes coming their way, so they, for some odd reason, just nuked the whole world. Then the US nuked the world back.


Those were always unsettling, but at least they were theoretical. This Mapping Arms Data visualization, created by Google using information from the UN Statistics Division’s Commodity Trade Statistics Database (CoMtraDe), is entirely real. It depicts the personal arms (from pistols to machine guns) that every country in the world has imported and exported over nearly the last 20 years. And the US looks to lead the pack, with nearly $1 billion in imports and $600 million in exports snaking their glowing, pulsating tendrils into every spot on the globe.

The effect is only exacerbated by the fully explorable, 3-D interface. China is a global export hub–sending $50 million in weaponry around the globe, but they don’t hold a candle to Italy, which exported more than six times that amount in 2010. Indeed, however small a country may be on the globe, their large, laser-like arcs of light expelled by weaponry balance out any possible misconceptions. The glowing visual may be eye-burning overkill, but it’s also darned effective at calling out small land masses that would sneak by if all we did was paint them in a different color.

Of course, there are huge shortcomings with the reporting. The project admits that some military trades will circumvent gun checkpoints, some countries don’t account for all weapons coming over their borders and, in the cases of China, Iran and North Korea, especially, the reporting is far short of reliable (PFD). You could buy a midrange car for more than North Korea said they imported in weapons last year. Then again, the country is known for throwing bad military photoshops and parades full of fake missile launchers–and also doing plenty of covert trade in weapons and luxury items for the ruling regime.

But before the mass amounts we spend on personal weaponry get you too upset, do try to put it all into perspective. The US imported a billion dollars in guns in 2010, sure, but that’s less than the price of half a dozen F-22 jets.

Wait a second…actually have no idea if that makes me feel better or worse.

See it here.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.